Mothers Are Like Oak Trees

In November, we drove from Western New York to Minneapolis to visit relatives for Thanksgiving.  The scenery was the usual dull winter type.  Grass was brown, or covered in snow, and the trees were bare.  As we drove, I noticed that some trees were still clinging to their leaves.  The leaves were brown and dead, or dying, but still these few trees held to them and did not relinquish them to the harshness of winter.  I asked my husband about these special trees and he said they were oaks.  Apparently oaks do not easily part with their leaves.

When my daughter, Jennifer, died, I wondered how I could get out of bed in the morning; how people could go about their days when my precious girl was gone.  Reluctantly, I visited Jenn’s facebook page to read what her friends had written.  What I saw both broke my heart and surprised me.  Someone named Erika had built a memorial page.  Many others, whose names I did not know, had posted there.  Through messages with these unknown people I found that Jenn had been an integral part of an online support group for people with eating disorders.  Erika and another friend, Sarah, went to that online group and sent me dozens of messages from people who knew Jenn and loved her.  They knew her as Moonshadow.  Those messages made me cry for I realized that I had lost a daughter, and they had lost a dear friend.  And, so, Moonshadow’s Spirit was created.  Our financial support can never replace Jenn’s loving and caring, but we will ensure that she not be “buried along with her name.”  Her memory will live.  I am the oak clinging tightly to my daughter’s leaf.

Through this 5-year journey I am humbled and grateful to have met other mother oaks clinging to their leaves.  My dear friend, Lauren, travels with me as I speak to groups about eating disorders.  I tell Jenn’s story and she tells her son, Matt’s, story.  There is mother oak, Ellen, whose daughter’s heart stopped after years of anorexia.  Ellen has a site, kmbforanswers, which provides eating disorder information and she also speaks publicly.  Not all the mother oaks I have met lost their children.  No, those oaks are clinging to their leaves trying to keep them alive.  Harriet Brown chronicled her oak story in her book, Brave Girl Eating.  Michelle tells her oak story every year to state politicians in order to guarantee funds to help others.  And there are so many mother oaks who write heartbreaking letters to us asking for help for their children.  Nancy H. and Melanie G. are two who let me use their names.

Moonshadow’s Spirit is an organization formed to help people with eating disorders.  And the mother oaks named above are a small subset of those who cling to their leaves through the heartbreak of an eating disorder.  But I would be remiss to ignore the millions of mother oaks around the world who use similar means to remember the children they have lost – web sites, books, foundations, walks, fundraisers, and support groups.  And I cannot forget to include the mother oaks helping their children through a multitude of different physical, emotional, and mental issues.  In fact, when tested, almost every mother will show the strength of an oak.

Fathers.  Shouldn’t they be included?  Well, if I am the oak clinging to my Jennifer-leaf, then David is the root system that keeps me from falling in the storm.  Without him I would still be in bed mourning my child.

For all those mothers who have lost children, I wish a wonderful mother-oak day this Sunday.  This is for you – Lauren, Ellen, Gail, Kate, Lauri, Carolyn, Leslie, Nikki, Shelley, and Sandy.