Respectful Transitions – A Tale of Family, Trees, and Healing Beauty

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:








About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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1 Response to Respectful Transitions – A Tale of Family, Trees, and Healing Beauty

  1. Love it that “tree people” bought your family home. You’ve got it right “Many of us get attached to our trees.” Up on a shelf with other family members in my new house is a photo of my beloved Back Yard Tree in its prime.

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