Sunday, January 1, 2012

Eliza's Tree

Depending on how well you know me / stalk me, you may know that one of the nicest things about my little bungalow in the city is that it has a beautiful tree in the front yard.  In the spring, this tree blooms with beautiful pink flowers and is the loveliest thing on our street.  Honestly, we bought our house in March, and the tree is what sold me on this house.

Depending on how long you've been reading this blog and how closely you monitor the minutiae in my life, you may also remember that it didn't bloom this year.  It stayed brown and gray and ugly all through spring because, like everybody else in our family, it was mourning Eliza.  Love this tree.

Planting a tree to commemorate a loved one is not a new idea, but it's one that I love.  I knew I'd like to do that for Eliza, but we weren't sure we wanted to do it at our house.  I didn't like the idea of moving and leaving it behind, not to mention that our yard is by no means huge and, well, the three trees that we have (two in the front yard, one in the back), along with the deck and garden and garage kind of take up all the available space.  I considered planting a tree at my parents' house, or out at their farm, but I mostly just felt unsure about what I wanted to do.

My friend Angie is another St. Louis girl, and she was sort of my grief guru this year.  She lost her daughter Olivia in August of 2009, navigated a stressful, high-risk pregnancy before having her baby Lucas this past April, and in the midst of her own sadness and anxiety, she generously offered her guidance to me as I floundered in my grief for the first several weeks months year.  She linked me to Carly Marie's sunset photography page, she sent me a link to the silver bracelet I ordered with Eliza's name on it, she encouraged me to attend the grief support group at a local hospital, she recommended doctors for me to meet with when I started freaking out about trying to get pregnant again, and she told me about a program with the City of St. Louis's Parks Department that allows you to donate a tree in memory of a loved one, and the tree will be planted in the city park of your choice. 

They call it the "Tree-membrance Program," which sort of makes me cringe because it's such a terrible pun or play or words or whatever.  But I decided I could get past that because we loved the idea.  We wanted to donate a tree in memory of Eliza that would be in a public place, that could be appreciated by many people, and that would always be somewhere that we could visit.

When you fill out the form (which you have to print and mail in, old-school style), you can select whether you want a shade tree, an evergreen tree, or a flowering tree.  I selected a flowering tree, I guess because I wanted the prettiest tree possible.  I didn't think very hard about it, it just seemed obvious to me.

What was less clear was which city park we wanted to choose.  We live close to a pretty little park called Tilles Park.  I liked the idea of it being within walking distance, and being a quiet little neighborhood park.  We sometimes play tennis there, or use the ball fields to practice hitting foam golf balls.  I used to walk Cooper up to that park quite often, and I would imagine pushing a stroller up there and then watching our little one play on the playground equipment.  After Eliza died, though, I found myself avoiding that park on our walks (too many mommies with strollers), and David joined a driving range for golf practice, so we haven't really been there much, even though we drive by it every day.  Still, it was a place I'd imagined taking Eliza, and I thought it might be nice to see her tree each day.  

In the end, though, we decided to put the tree in our most favorite park, even though it's a bit farther from our house, and it's the biggest and most public park in St. Louis:  Forest Park.  Forest Park is this city's best feature, in my opinion.  It houses a zoo (free admission), an art museum (free admission), a history museum (free admission), an outdoor musical theatre (free admission if you sit in the way back), and other lovely attractions like pavilions, fountains, bike trails and walking trails, a golf course and driving range, baseball fields (where I watched David play ball one summer), and an ice skating rink.  

The Boat House restaurant in Forest Park is where we had dinner and rented a paddleboat on our very first wedding anniversary, and it's also where David and I went to dinner to open the envelope that told us our Baby Duck was a little girl--we wanted to find out just the two of us before we shared with friends and family at our Daisy or Donald Party (the whole thing is documented here, in a post that's just too painful for me to read now).  

I was eight weeks pregnant with Eliza when we went to Shakespeare in the Park on Art Hill and I fell asleep during the second half of Hamlet because even the Bard is no match for first-trimester-tiredness.  

One summer we made the life-changing discovery that an entire bottle of wine will fit inside a large plastic Nalgene bottle, so many hot, humid summer nights over the past few years have found us with our beverage of choice at the Muny (you can bring your own snacks, but no glass containers), sitting in the free seats to watch Miss Saigon and Les Miserables and Meet Me In St. Louis and Damn Yankees and several other shows for cheap summer date nights.  

Forest Park is across the street from Wash U, and my best grad school friends and I would bring tennis shoes and shorts to change into after teaching or grading on campus, and we'd escape our windowless basement office to walk and talk on beautiful, sunshiny days.  

It's where I'd attended graduation parties and going away parties for friends.  It's where we watched the sea lions at the zoo.  It's where we like to take people who visit us from out of town.  It's where David and I like best to walk the dogs, and where we've wandered the walking paths, talking about job opportunities and planning our family and our future.  After we thought about it, we couldn't imagine planting Eliza's tree anywhere else.

We placed our order sometime last spring (fog of grief... timeframe is a little hazy) and if you order between January and July, your tree is planted sometime between November 15th and January 31st.  All I could remember was "November," so it occurred to me after we got back from Mexico, when we were driving to see my parents, that I should try to find the copy of the form I filled out, because we hadn't heard anything from the Parks Department and I wanted to make sure our order hadn't gotten lost.  (I may have gotten a confirmation from them back in the spring, but seriously, lost to the grief-haze, no recollection).  So I said this to David and asked him to remind me of it when we got home, which is really just a verbal reminder to myself because I swear that maybe once or twice in the fifty million times I've asked him to help me remember to do something has he actually remembered to mention it again.

Anyway, we got home today and I sorted through the pile of mail that we'd had the post office hold for a week, and the last thing I opened was a manila envelope from the City of St. Louis.  I saved it for last because I thought it was probably something to do with taxes.  Instead, I found this:

I cried because every time I see Eliza's name it just fills up my heart.  

And I'm no botanist, so I once I quit sniffling, I googled "saucer magnolia tree."  

Would you believe it?  It's the same tree that we have out front, with those beautiful pink springtime blooms (excepting the year 2011).  We always thought our tree was probably some kind of magnolia, but I wasn't sure because it's not the traditional Southern Magnolia.  David's grandma calls it a "tulip tree," and I'd never bothered to really try and figure it out.

But now we know.  It's Eliza's tree.  A saucer magnolia.  Of course it is.  How could it be anything else?

A map of the park was also enclosed in the envelope, with a little green dot labeled "Eliza Taylor Duckworth," marking the location of her magnolia tree.  It's between the Muny and the Boat House, which made me cry big, tender tears.  2011 was a year of grief and sadness, but 2010 was a year of so much hope and happiness, and I spent many summer evenings in Forest Park, blissfully happy and pregnant with Eliza.  It's a place where I like to remember her, and it's the perfect place to plant her tree.

Her tree:

It's still little and bare and sad right now.  But I do believe that love is even bigger than grief, and that her short, sweet life will continue to make the world a better place and, someday, her tree will look like this:  


  1. such an amazing story, for such an amazing little girl. the tree is beautiful even in it's bare state. how could it be anything but?

    <3 Eliza <3

  2. Amazing...really amazing. I really love Saucer Magnolia trees...but guess what? I always called them tulip trees. They smell divine and are just so delicate and beautiful. I am so happy about the placement of the tree...what a lovely suprise to come home to after your Mexian Christmas.. I can't wait for it to bloom.

  3. Oh, that's just too perfect. What a great story! I hope the tree flourishes & blooms & brings you much comfort in the years to come.

    Funny to think of planting a tree in December, though (lol -- my Canadian perspective showing...!).

  4. I looooove her tree!! It is so special to me to have Hayes' tree in a public place! Great idea! Can't wait to see pics when it blooms!

  5. I know you aren't a big believer in signs but the tree thing gave me goosebumps in a good way. If that isn't a huge sign from Eliza, I don't know what is.
    It's perfect.
    I suspect Eliza's tree in your yard will bloom beautifully this year. After such a dark, hard year, I suspect 2012 will be a much nicer year for you.

  6. My God, Brooke.

    What a beauty. I also love that tree. We have a pink, flowering tree in our front yard and it amazes me when it blooms. I hated it this year as it didn't follow the same protocol as your clearly more intelligent and nurturing tree, but I love it. We planted Andrew/Flip's bulbs under that tree as well because it's our favorite and symbolizes life and love.

    I've been to that park you speak of and would love to see her tree in bloom if we're back in St. Louis during that time. I think it's a beautiful tribute and so glad it was planted in December-- her month.

    Lovely idea and legacy. I hope people are able to admire your beautiful tribute forevermore.

    Thanks for sharing. That filled my heart as well.

  7. Oh my goodness! How perfectly beautiful.

  8. Wow, that is just amazing! What a super idea. My husband and I are planning a memorial garden in our backyard for our twins, but struggle a little knowing that we don't intend to live here forever. I suppose we'll take the movable things, take cuttings of others (like the tree peonies we were gifted that started the whole idea), and recreate it whereever we go.

  9. So incredibly beautiful!!! What an amazing story & what an awesome way to remember Eliza ((hugs))

  10. This was just beautiful. The writing, the background, the tree, all of it. Just perfect for your perfect girl.

    In our one trip to St. Louis we fell in love with your city and hope to go back. We went to Forest park, but will return again and when we do I'd love to visit her tree - do they have a marker by it or can you put one there?

  11. It's beautiful.. and me being a hot mess of emotions these days got all teary while reading about her beautiful trees. xo...

  12. I love a story like this. Thank you for sharing. It gives me happiness to learn about connections and the ways our babies remind us that we are still connected.
    There are a few tulip/saucer magnolia trees in my neighborhood here, though none as grand as yours. Thanks for giving me a new way to remember Eliza.