4 min read

Grieving for a flowering cherry tree

There is a flowering cherry tree growing just outside of our home office window. It has had been a source of joy and delight for us each spring since we moved here. Erupting in pale pink and white flowers just as the weather gets marginally warm it brings beauty and magic to the whole courtyard. It attracts bumblebees which clumsily climb onto its low hanging branches in search of nectar. The little branches sway here and there in the wind and as the bees clamber from one bud to another.

In the summer its green leaves keep our rooms in cool shade. The branches dance on the wind casting a mosaic of shadow and light in our bedroom and office floor and walls. Within the thicket of its branches magpies, pigeons, and a host of smaller birds find respite and plenty of space to nest.

That's of course until last week.

Last week the country was reeling after the storm Isla and bracing for the next one. The night before, the branches of the flowering cherry tree scraped and banged against the outside wall of our apartment making an ungodly noise, so when tree surgeons appeared in our courtyard on Tuesday morning - just in time before the next storm - I thought they were there to clean up the damage from the night before. They started their chainsaws and got to work. We lowered our blinds for privacy.

Two hours later they were still at it and I peered through the blind, concerned. I looked at the cherry tree - or rather what was left of it - in horror.

Several large branches were removed. All small branches at lower levels were gone too. Main trunk and three main branches remained, splitting up higher up, but trimmed almost entirely bare. By lunchtime only high up smaller branches remained, reaching up to the pale winter sky with skeleton fingers as if calling for aid.

Of course I know they're professionals. I know that what they did is probably the best for the tree, curtailing its growth in a limited space while keeping it alive. I know it's going to recover in a couple of years. I intellectually know this to be true. But I also know that there will not be a joyous cascade of pale flowers this year. I won't be spying on bumblebees' labour from my window. I won't delight in the dense dark green canopy shrouding me from the sun and the prying eyes.

The tree feels naked. Standing by the window now I too feel naked. And I feel very robbed of the future joy I was looking forward to all this dreadful and difficult winter.

So on Tuesday last week I wept for a flowering cherry tree.

On Wednesday I attended my friend's funeral.

Living in the city centre it is sometimes easy to forget how beautiful Ireland is when you escape the concrete grip of Dublin. In amongst the breathtaking greenery of Wicklow, even in the depths of winter, it's almost easy to forget why we're here. The morning is bright and brisk but a haze rises around as if you were watching the forest breathe.

Her coffin is emblazoned with an abstract painting in all the colours of the rainbow. We grin - of course it is! The service is relentlessly cheerful and hopeful, and the eulogy celebrates her in all possible ways. They hardly mention the cancer. We laugh at all the wonderful anecdotes, standing under the speaker outside of a fully packed church, rubbing our hands together to keep the chill at bay. It's impossible to weep.

I don't find the strength to see her being lowered into the ground.

After the service we join family and friends in the local pub. Neither of us are drinking that afternoon, so we nurse our teas and coffees and scoff the sandwiches and soup. We talk about everything but the funeral. There's an upcoming wedding in a few weeks; one of us has a new job offer; we discuss industry news.

In the evening I go to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned, an appointment I couldn't move. She tells me of two people she knows who took their own lives, both just the previous Friday. During the procedure she pauses; her son just lost his first tooth. We talk about the tooth fairy. Derry Girls is on the telly. As I leave she promises things can only get better.

Thursday I'm back at work. By Friday evening my throat's sore. By Saturday I have a fever. It takes a special kind of luck to get the flu at a funeral.

It's Tuesday again, I sit in my home office trying to concentrate on work. The worst is behind me but I'm tired from the illness. It's too bright. I feel watched. I want to go back to bed.

Outside, just at the eye level, I see the stump of what was a major branch of the cherry tree. My eyes well up.

It's not the same, I can't stop but think, but at least I'll still get to see this flowering cherry go through another spring.

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