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September 28th, 2016

The Tree You Planted

By G. E. Shuman
I lost my baby brother last week. After over six years of a heroic battle with cancer, he is, finally, at rest, and totally out of the reach of any more pain. His death is tragic, but in some ways, it was “best for him”, as his loving, grieving wife told me on the phone only hours before his departing. His suffering is completely finished, and forever in the past. We, as his family, will continue to bear his loss, but our own suffering because of his pain is also over. As I said, he is at rest.

My brother was a very private person, and his wishes were that there be no funeral, fanfare, flowers or flattering words to commemorate his passing. That is one reason his name won’t be mentioned in this column. He lived his private life in his own way, and died his private death, in the presence of his own family. That was his way, too. His wife, children, and grandchildren were all there, along with two of his siblings and our mom.

My brother lived most of his life, and died, in the very house to which he was brought home from the hospital as a baby. Mom and Dad had left the car on a windy April afternoon, long ago, and had brought him across the lawn and into our home. I remember that very day, very well. I watched them, while only 6 years old, myself, through the same glass panes of that kitchen window that I looked out through, remembering those things, the day after he left us.

It’s hard to know what to do from here, what to say from this point. It is true that my brother is gone, but it is not true that everything that was my brother, is gone. He loved owning some things, and doing some things. He had a huge Harley that he actually offered for me to try riding a few summers ago. If I had taken him up on that offer, I would surely have dumped that vehicle, which is half the size of my car and twice as powerful, onto its side in the street. It would have been scraped and dented, and I would have been, too. (All of that would have been made much worse if I had actually gotten the bike started.) The motorcycle is still around.

My brother also loved fishing, either from his boat, or from a shack atop some frozen lake in winter. I understood his love of fishing, just not his love for fish that would be pre-frozen before you even got them home. The fishing gear, and his boat, are still here.

He also loved gardening, and it was impossible to leave his family’s home in summer without several generous bags of beautiful vegetables being placed into your trunk. His garden is alive and growing, still.

Although my brother loved all life, from exotic pets, to deer, and lake fish, and to the caged rabbits he once raised, and chickens, and even fruit trees, those things were not his life. His life was far and above all of that. His life was one of fierce dedication to his wife, children, and grandchildren. If you did not know that about my brother, then you did not know my brother. In fact, his last, most courageous struggles to hang onto this world were because of promises to do so, made to his kids, and also to have time with his recently born, beautiful granddaughter. Life, and living it, was what my brother was all about.

Trees have deep roots, and long lives. Their branches take time to grow sturdy, and they stretch into the future, as they stretch into the sky. I’m not sure if my baby brother ever planted many actual trees. He may have. In any case, I thought the quote with which I end this column, was fitting, for him. I do know that the roots of courage, from his own heart, are planted deeply within the hearts of his family. It is my hope that you and I will leave the seedlings of our love within the hearts of our own loved ones, as did my baby brother. Without a doubt, the time we spend here will have its effects on their futures. That is a biological, and even a mathematical certainty. This saying is sure: “The tree you planted is climbed by future generations.”

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