On Death, Babies, and Walnut Trees

Our Walnut This Morning

My friend Loretta died yesterday after a tough battle with breast cancer. She was 38 and had a 1 year old son, a 4 year old daughter, and a husband who adored her.

I could tell you about how we met in grad school, about how she made me laugh, about how her strength and honesty in the face of profound trial broke my heart and made it more resilient.

All those things are true, and yet, I find myself dwelling on her absence, on the way someone can simply go away from our every day existence.  I haven’t seen Loretta in more than 10 years, and still, to think she is gone . . . The presence of her absence must be loud and clanging for her family.


Yesterday, Jackson – at just a few weeks old – had a major surgery to put in a tracheostomy and a feeding tube.  His parents – young themselves in their early 20s – had to make choices about his care and his quality of life that were hard and complex, and in the meantime, they also fielded comments that slighted and doomsayers who predicted travail.

I have watched Jackson via the blessing of Facebook since the day he was born. He is strong and beautiful, and he has much to work through and much to count as blessing when he is able to count.


This morning, I have coffee at the dining room table and watch our goats wander in and out of the barn.  I hear Meander’s collar jangle, and Mosey sleeps on the couch.  Today, I am alive with no major choices, no major hardships or burdens of my own to carry.

So I sit and stare at the walnut tree branching out over our pasture, I study the crooks of the branches, the notches that fork into the air, ever smaller and finer . . . I follow the etchings of the bark out to the walnuts that will drop and grow another tree, like this one but nothing like it, too.

I hold Loretta and Jackson close. I pray for their families’ peace and wisdom and comfort. I ask that people who know just how to love them will come close, will have the right words to say and the knowledge of silence as a gift when it is.

Today, I am a solid branch of the tree, holding up other branches with the way I can be and speak hope and strength into a Being who catches it and uses it to feed the weaker spaces.  Today, I am stronger.

And I don’t take that strength lightly because I have been the grief-stricken branch, bent over so far that it felt like I would break.  And others have been the strong ones who prayed.


I don’t hold a lot of things as sacred truths anymore. I don’t know anything about the afterlife or about how prayer works. I no longer trust that I understand the why of much of anything.  But I do believe these things:

  • God is always good and always loving.
  • We are all connected in ways we cannot imagine or fathom.
  • The story isn’t over.

So today, as I grieve for my friend, as I ponder the greatness that will be Jackson’s life, as I research the stories of enslaved people, and as I tend our animals here in the quiet of evening here on this place, I trust.  I trust that Goodness and Love will bind us together in just the right ways to tell just the right story.

All the time.


If you would like to know more about Loretta’s life and how you can help her family in their time of need or if you’d like to follow Jackson’s medical journey and help his family with his expenses, please visit their Go Fund Me pages.