The Memory Tree

I wonder a lot about life after death. In fact, sometimes because of my OCD, I get obsessed and can’t stop thinking about it.

Anxiety disorders are fun.

Anyway, I have done more thinking about not being alive than the average person. It usually starts with the fear of “not being” because I can’t prepare for it. Lack of control or knowing what to expect is a giant anxiety trigger for me.

I know as a Christian, I am supposed to “rest in the salvation of Jesus” knowing that I will have eternal life if I follow him.

But as someone who is not just anxious, but also has a severe case of doubt, that is a hard one for me. I want to believe that when we die, our conscious souls dwell together and we “see” our loved ones again forever. Sounds great.

However I lay awake at night often trying to imagine not being. I think about how there was a time before me, and there will be a time after me. But since I don’t remember “where” I “was” before I was born, I get a bit freaked out about where I will “go” when I am gone. Or will I just be gone?

People often say they know there is life after death because they can “feel” their lost loved ones. I don’t know if this is true or hopeful thinking. There are times when I feel something, and it makes me think of those I’ve loved who have passed on. Is that them? Or is it just a memory of them? Is the memory actually them? I don’t know.

Since having kids, my fears of death and what happens have deepened since I worry about leaving my kids without a mother. I worry they will forget me, and that if I am just “gone,” there will be no way for them to feel my love once I am gone.

As my children get older, however, I’ve started to have a different view. I’ve often referred to Eddie and Charlie as “old souls.” They are such different personalities, but both have a way of thinking that is downright profound. If you follow my #SluitersReadHarryPotter hashtag on Facebook, you already know this. But something they said last week made me pause and wonder about the age of their souls and the depth of their wisdom.

Thursdays I pick the boys up from the after school program around 4:15pm; last week was no different. As we were getting in to the car, Eddie nodded toward the corn field that lies adjacent to their school property on the parking lot side, “Oh. There’s that construction truck.”

There was a parked van in my way of seeing what he had referred to, so I said, “what? construction? where?”

“Over there. They took the big tree down. I miss it. It held my memories.”

I looked at him quizzically as I buckled Charlie in. “What tree are you talking about?”

“The one that was in the middle of that field,” he said indicating again with his head.

Now that I was getting into the driver’s seat, I could see the large yellow back hoe in the middle of the field where I assumed they were extracting a stump. “There was a tree there?”

“Yeah. It was big and old and held my memories. Charlie, you probably don’t remember it because it was taken down at the beginning of the year.”

“No,” Charlie says, “I remember it. It was there at the start of this year. I remember it in that field before they cut it down. You are right, Eddie. It did hold my Kindergarten memories too.”

“Yeah,” sighed Eddie, “and now it’s gone.”

“Wait a minute. That tree held your memories? What does that mean?” I asked.

“Mom. Trees hold memories,” Charlie told me completely annoyed that I didn’t know what they were talking about.

“Yeah, you know. Like in the leaves or something. I don’t really know how it works,” Eddie tried to explain. “I feel like mine are in the leaves. But maybe not because those fall off each year, but the tree keeps the memories. You know, like the tree in our front yard. That has my whole life’s memories.”

“Yup,” Charlie added, “I think the memories are in the branches. But maybe that’s not right either, because I have more memories than how many branches our tree has. But they are in it. It holds them.”

“But you guys, your school memories aren’t gone just because that tree is gone,” I explained.

“Hm. Maybe,” Eddie shrugged.

And that was it. Neither kid talked any further on it. They went on to talking about other, more kid-related things.”

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that conversation, and how they both sounded so serious and wise and sure of themselves–not like little kids being goofy and making stuff up, but like elders who tell you about the way the world moves and works.

If there was anything in this world that gave me an indication about life after this world, it is my two boys. The wisdom that comes from them  feels like they pulled it from generations back. That they are somehow connected to those generations in ways that I am not. That certain things aren’t just “new” to them the way they should be for an 8-year old or a 5-year old. I’m not sure how to explain it.

Whatever it is, it brings me comfort. And so does their assertion that trees hold our memories. Perhaps this is why I cried when my dad cut trees out of our yard and/or woods when I was little. Or maybe it’s why I feel so connected to the tree that we planted in our front yard. In fact, no one in the family wants to leave that tree behind when we move some day. Maybe it’s because it holds all the Sluiter Family memories.

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. I have the same fears about dying. You put my exact feelings into words on your blog.

    Eddie and Charlie’s memory tree is comforting.

    I hope I can find my own comfort, too.

  2. I was *just* talking with friends about this very feeling. When I hear stories of children saying stuff like this I can’t help but think there’s another part to life after this one.

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