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"After the Storm"

Debbie Gemmill, GIS "Reflections" vol. 19, July 1991
Reprinted with the author's permission
Washington State Chapter NSIDSF Newsletter
March/April 1992

A terrific windstorm hit our area early this winter. On our way to piano lessons Jordan noticed the damage done t the eucalyptus trees lining the main street through the center of town. Broken limbs and piles of leaf debris had been blown into the roadway, and I was listening to Jordan with only half an ear as I negotiated the car around them.

"It looks like a war," he said. Considering we'd spent the last 6 weeks watching the goings-on in the Persian Gulf, his comment did not surprise me. "Uh-huh," I said, as I quickly changed lanes to avoid a branch in the road. "I wonder what the trees feel like when their branches fall off," he went on. "Do you think it hurts?"

Flashback to a few years ago at a SIDS support meeting. A mom said, "It feels like a branch from our family tree has been torn off." I felt that way too. A limb had been ripped from our family body. A small branch, a young branch, but its presence completed us, and the wound it left was large. Without it we were lopsided, off balance. We struggled to keep from tipping over altogether and in the process we learned what roots are for.

"Mom, you didn't answer me," Jordan said impatiently. Do you think it hurts the tree when the branches fall off?"

Jordan was born into a still grieving family. Though his birth was glorious for us and he brought with him the seeds of healing, we were still reeling from the wounds that his brother Tyler's death had caused. And even now, 9 years later, the thought of the scope of that loss leaves me wordless. And so I did the only think I could think to do to handle Jordan's innocent question: I changed the subject. (Being a bereaved parent had not made me a perfect parent.)

It's been 5 months since that conversation. We just got back from Jordan's final piano lesson until September. Our spirits were high on the drive home as we anticipated our summer vacation and our freedom from school and other obligations. We were singing silly songs and having a wonderful time when suddenly Jordan shouted at the top of his lungs "MOM! LOOK!" He was pointing wildly to the center of the roadway where the eucalyptus trees grow. "Look at the new little branches!" And of course, because it is spring, the trees were full of spring-green new branchlings sprouting from places close to where the winter storm had done its damage. The wounds were healed over and new life had happened, but the evidence of the damage was visible.

I pray our family will never face a storm like the one we lived through 9 years ago. It is a miracle to me that we survived it, considering we'd had no warning, no time to prepare, and certainly no experience to fall back on. I think what got us through were the kinds of things that get most people through tragedies: We clung like crazy to the people around us. Their support and accurate SIDS information helped shore us up till we were able to stand on our own. They acted, I suppose, as the roots which grounded us. Jordan, our family's newest branchling, helped get us through too. With his countless questions and innocent (yet surprisingly profound) insights, he has helped us explore both our wounds and our growth. When he entered our family he did not replace the fallen branch; he created a new limb all his own. If you look hard, though, you can still see the healed-over place, but we're not falling over. And that, I learned, is what roots are for.

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