I often think that people should be like trees –


if you could find a way to cut inside, you could see rings, showing what the person had weathered – the seasons, the losses, the gains.

If I looked in my rings, what story would they tell? There I am at 16, losing my grandmother to cancer. If you look closely, you can see the first beginnings of the loss, the grief taking hold, at age 15 when the diagnosis was confirmed. There I am, lying on my bed, sobbing as the full realization hits me: my grandmother – my everything – is dying. On the phone, I am trying to explain the magnitude of my loss, my grief, to my best friend. She cannot understand.

There’s the next ring. I’m 38 now, and I’ve lost my husband, my partner, my soul mate – again to cancer. Look closely at the ring the year before. There it is, the first mark, the beginning of the end, as the Emergency Room doctor looks my husband dead in the eye and says “You have leukemia. I’m pretty sure It’s AML, the most aggressive kind. We’ll have to do more blood work to confirm.” And only then, after all the news has been delivered, the doctor says “I’m sorry.”

The next rings stretch on and on, through 20 seasons. There’s my widowhood, a time of wrenching heartache and new, unwanted starts. There’s meeting my now husband – I’m unready at first, then suddenly open, ready to start again. There’s the in vitro, the bringing in of our daughter, who in 14 more rotations would announce he’d become our son. Look at the marking – a sharp, deep cut where dreams had dared to take root.

In the same series, there I am waiting for my own cancer diagnosis, putting together an altar with the photos of the people I love, when I realize I’m not in any of the photos I have chosen. Despite the looming diagnosis and my own absence, I decide to stay and fight for my life. Two rings more…radiation, my mother’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, her oh-so-long lingering. The rings get very tight here, strained, about to snap. Moments of joy interspersed…the decision to live, to stay, to fight. My daughter’s beautiful voice in Canterbury Cathedral, ringing the rafters, opening my heart to bursting. No hormones yet to change her voice forever.

And now – 58 rings old, what do we see? Me, scarred. Healing. Surviving. Thriving. Writing my stories. Re-membering life.

I think about the 700-year-old yew tree I visited in England. I stood inside the ancient tree, in the hollow that time had hewn. This is where it happened, where I came to know that the soul exceeds its confinement. This is where I decided: I will use my strength to carve my bows, launching my arrows, season upon season etched in my sinews, like the yew.


Jan is a psychologist and astrologer whose own journey through loss and recovery has informed her work with the clients she has helped navigate through the seasons and transitions in their lives. She lives and works in Great Barrington, Massachusetts  and virtually with clients around the world. You can find her at www.drjanseward.com and www.eighthvesseloracle.com.


This story was written in Write Your Grief Story workshops, an intimate and supportive online writing group. Want to write your grief story?




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