My husband, John, would often say hello to our son when he opened the freezer in the garage. Reaching in for a bag of ice or frozen raspberries he'd call out "Hey, Kanoa!" before shutting the door.
It was one of his ways of coping.
I would roll my eyes and maybe giggle - that was mine.
I had giggled, disorienting Demerol coursing through my veins, on the day of my D & C, when John asked the OB if he had a "baggie or something" in which we could carry home the miscarried embryo, which we "knew" was a boy, which we named Kanoa. His question sounded absurd in the setting. But the kind nurse obliged, and Kanoa (Hawaiian for "free man") came home in a specimen cup, in a brown paper bag, and went into the freezer.
A week earlier, the midwife hadn't been able to find the heartbeat of this planned second child. An ultrasound confirmed that the baby had died inside of me at about 10 weeks along. My body just hadn't figured it out yet. It was a difficult time. Kanoa had earned his wings.
But we came through it, and decided that we would commemorate Kanoa by planting him with a tree in the backyard. The ideas started flowing.
"We'll plant it on the little hill above the swingset."
"A big, shady tree."
"With a bench underneath."
"We'll have picnics in the shade. "
That was five years ago. Kanoa's been holed up in the freezer ever since, and his little sister, who decided to ride in on his coat tails (I'm convinced her extra chromosome was somehow left for her courtesy of Kanoa), is now four years old.
And then, a few weeks ago, my friend Ron announced on Facebook that he had some catalpa saplings available if any friends were interested. "They're easy to grow!" he claimed. I jumped at the offer -- finally, a tree for Kanoa.
Ron delivered the tree on a Wednesday and I researched how to replant. Trees are very sensitive beings, and I didn't want to mess this up. Not with all the significance at stake.
It was the weekend before I was able to put the sapling into an enormous hole that my oldest daughter and her cousins had dug on the little hill above the swingset. It was already a little droopy, but I built the mound for water runoff at the bottom of the hole, surrounded it with rich compost from the garden, and, finally, retrieved Kanoa from his hiding place in the freezer.
John and I gently folded Kanoa into the earth around the tree and each said a little silent blessing. We were finally doing it. We tied a wooden stake to the stalk of the sapling to help it stand tall.
But then, the inevitable happened.
I've often said I have a "black thumb" - no natural gardening ability or special way with plants and flowers here. I've managed to kill just about every piece of green I've been in charge of...
And Kanoa's catalpa was no exception.
Within days the bright green leaves had withered and shrunk. The tiny trunk turned brittle. The tree was not thriving. I was devastated.
Mostly, I felt sorry that our dream of commemorating our lost child wouldn't come to fruition. That Kanoa's long and dark stay in our garage freezer was all in vain.
What does it mean? Why is the tree dead? What is my lesson here?
My lesson: Things are not always meant to be, and that's okay. Our best intentions, our most well-thought-out plans, our highest hopes for the right thing to happen... Well, at the very least we held those intentions, we thought out those plans, we hoped for the best. Ride that tide. Believe in your good. It will hang around. There's a lot of it everywhere.
Then John was calling from the backyard through the open window to the room where I was folding piles of pink leggings and mismatched socks.
"Come out here! When you can," he said. I took my time. Because laundry.
And when I finally came out, I saw.
The leaves were tiny, and the bright green of spring. They were spurting from the base of the lifeless catalpa like heart-shaped butterflies having a huddle. Dozens of them.
Neither John nor I knew why we had left the reedy dry brown tree in the hole. We just did. Perhaps our hearts just knew. Perhaps we were waiting to see what else might grow. Perhaps we couldn't bear the thought of turning up that soil.
Last week, we had to have an old and heavy apple tree removed from the yard. While he was there, John asked the arborist to come take a look at our surprisingly sprouting catalpa. What had made it start to grow again?
The arborist looked squarely at my husband and said, "I think you know."
My lesson: Continue to believe that good things are happening. Everywhere, all the time. That what we hope and think and intend can indeed unfurl into the light of a bright day.
Catalpa trees grow large and green. They have white blossoms in the spring, and long funny bean pods in the summer. Soon, we will have a picnic under the Kanoa Tree in our backyard, our very own tree that signifies strength and freedom. Feel free to come on over and say hey.
Emily Nielsen, CPT, is the owner of Fit for Motherhood, LLC, mother of 2 little girls, and an optimist by nature.
All posts © Emily Nielsen