The Landscape of Grief

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A photo of a woodland in silhouette, taken and provided by Fritha West

In this beautiful blog, Fritha reflects on a piece she wrote early in her grief journey, and how she feels now as she reads it back.

It is coming up to 5 years since my Dad died. 

About a year after his death, I wrote a blog about how his work as a forester influenced me and my approach to the natural world. I remember pouring my heart and soul into the piece at the time – it was hugely cathartic during a very tough period of my life.

This morning, my email pinged with a new notification, letting me know the blog had two new comments. I was touched. How lovely that people were reading my words, and remembering him, I thought. Someone out there was seeking to connect after so long. It seems like many people’s sympathy, or more importantly empathy, fades over time, and each year the mix of emotions around the anniversary are harder to explain.

I clicked on the link and skimmed back through the article, remembering the confusion and anger and grief behind every word. The awfulness of those years still stays with me, running parallel with the present. It is as if there will always be some alternate reality in which I am trapped, wrestling with his absence and the chaos that followed. Writing helps me to make sense of all this. And even when it doesn’t make sense, at least it is out there and no longer clogging up my brain. 

The blog reads:

“My Dad was responsible for planting over 30,000 trees. He would point them out as we drove across the county, as we passed motorway verges, nearby villages, estates, hillsides. Once, I took him to help on a survey, one of my first as a young professional ecologist. I was excited to introduce him to a new area, new job, new landscape. I was so proud of this new responsibility and wanted to show it off. When we got to the site he laughed delightedly and gestured over to the nearby woodland: “I planted those, 25 years ago!”

A photo taken by Fritha, the author of the blog, of a woodland planted by her father 25 years ago.
A photo taken by Fritha of a woodland planted by her father 25 years ago.

Looking back

At the time, I remember being unimpressed by this turn of events. It was his work that inspired me to learn about trees and wildlife, but as a teenager I would find his constant input extremely irritating. I’d come back from university full of new ideas, ready to tell him about the things I had learned, and more often than not, he knew them already.

This would fire up a discussion between the two of us, but I was forever frustrated that I couldn’t seem to bring something new to the table. We would argue about things endlessly, sometimes as good-natured debates and sometimes a little more heatedly. I look back on it now with rose-tinted glasses and would give anything to argue over some obscure topic, like tree planting or bird surveys, with him again. 

I know now that I was incredibly lucky. Lucky to have had a parent who inspired me and wanted to learn new things with me, to discuss and debate and encourage me. I was lucky to have had that time with him. I was 22 when he died, and just on the cusp of becoming my own person. Now I am someone he will never meet. It sucks. But still, in many ways, I was lucky.

“For the most part I simply accepted [his work] as a fact of life, and never paid much heed to the idea that one man, over the span of four decades, had helped transform the landscape. Often, I found it more than a little annoying, because he would always point them out, and I would drive by with no more than a glance at these towering rows of green. But now he is gone, things are different. I would fight tooth and nail to protect each one of them- a silent legacy that stretches along highways and byways, Weald and Downs.”

Memory and connection

There are places I can go to sit under the trees my Dad planted. There are now more, planted in memory of him. Having this connection to him, even half a decade after his death, is something I will always be grateful for. He changed the landscape of the world around him, and inspired me to do the same. Each of us carry on the legacy of our loved ones, even in seemingly small ways – gardening, painting, a cake recipe. A favourite story. It helps to remember them and feel the ripples of their impact years later. This is the sentiment I tried to end the blog with : 

When I am old and frail and wander through the Downs with the help of a walking stick, I have no doubt I will prattle on to my great nephews and nieces about how my father planted these trees. I hope that they are still there to talk about. I hope that I am still there to talk about them. But most of all, I hope that future generations can understand why they mean so much to me, and that they will plant saplings of their own.”

The comments

When I finally reached the comments at the bottom of my piece, I was jolted out of my state of reflection. Comment number one read:  “There are a lot of Realtors and Real Estate agents in Bali But I will always choose this particular one.” Comment number two was similarly obscure: “After the completion of the Metaverse and gamification subjects, Treasure will bee the NETFLIX of the digital collectibles market.” Okay, so, maybe not the ground-breaking connection I was hoping for, but at least it gave me the chance to read back through and think things over! 

Fritha West

Original blog link: 

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