We don’t have a choice about losing people and things we cherish. It’s a big part of being human. One of the most precious lessons I’ve learned from singing at the bedsides of people in hospice is this: beauty can offer solace in those painful times of loss and transition.
My friend Tom Peter has found a way to bring that solace to people who are grieving the loss of a beloved tree.
I met Tom at a local conference where he was displaying his remarkable artwork: natural-edge, lathe-turned wood vessels. When I first saw the graceful, intricate, glowing and delicate vessels I just had to touch them. I bought two pieces that day – one for a beloved friend and one for me.
Tom’s business is called “Respectful Transitions.” As a certified arborist, Tom knows tree biology inside and out. As an artist, he uses that knowledge to highlight the beautiful structures hidden inside a common branch. He made his first vessel for a young woman whose favorite tree had to be removed while she was away at college. When she returned, Tom presented her with a beautiful memento of her “friend.” Since then he has made hundreds of vessels and received national recognition for his craft.
Many of us get attached to our trees. I still recall the trauma I experienced as the huge graceful elms at my childhood home died off from Dutch elm disease. My parents replanted the land with many trees in the decades they lived in that house – birches, blue spruce, aspens, walnut, and crab apple. We burned wood to heat our house. We were – and are – “tree people.”
At our first meeting, I told Tom that our family would be a perfect client for his work. Mom was preparing to leave the family homestead – and the beautiful trees there — after 53 years. I was certain that we couldn’t afford the cost of vessels for my mother and each of her three children. It was a wonderful dream, but completely impractical.
A few months later Tom called me with a proposal: would my family be willing to be featured in a story by the local CBS affiliate about his work? Mom gave her approval and on chilly November day, three generations of McAfee’s, Tom, and the TV folks converged at the old family place in Stillwater, Minnesota.
The news story ran Thanksgiving weekend that year. You can see it here:
Mom has since sold the house to a beautiful family who loves it as much as we did. They have planted a small orchard of fruit trees – keeping the tree-loving tradition alive on that beautiful property. Mom, my brothers, and I treasure our keepsakes from the trees we loved for so many years. And the four grandchildren – who grew up playing under their branches – received small vessels as well.
I am grateful for Tom’s generous gift to our family and celebrate all of the transitions he has eased by bringing beauty into the midst of loss.
You can contact Tom via email: firstname.lastname@example.org