Oak and Willow

My Mum was born on 14 January 1924 and died 14 June 2010

Born Edith Betty Holland, she met a man she would dedicate her life to, to honour and obey, till death do they part. Dad died in 1999 and if you knew him you would know that he was a truly great man but as they say, behind every great man…

They fitted perfectly. My Grandma used to say that they were the best mum and dad in the world and she wasn't given to flowery sentimentality. Mum was strong and resolute, not one for forgiving and forgetting. Fortunately Dad was a peacemaker - Mum the dependable, brittle, oak, Dad the strong but flexible willow. Mum had little self confidence but she had an inner strength she didn't believe she had and drew strength from the man upon whom she could utterly depend.

The last few years Mum battled with vascular dementia but she clung on to the memory of her family and husband like grim death when, by all rights, she should have slipped into blissful ignorance. My eulogy at her funeral wasn’t the recollection of one life now ended but the story of two lives and a journey. This is the story.

There once lived a young sapling named Willow Wise. He was strong and supple, brilliant and humble. He learned the ways of the wind – whistled her tunes and measured her moods. He knew the extent of the forest, its height and girth. He knew why sap rose and leaves fell. He knew where the paths led, which ones were safe and which were treacherous. He loved adventure and surprise but never ventured near the swamps and ledges.

When the great cruel wind blew through the forest he was uprooted and came to rest under the boughs of Sycamore Strong. She grew very fond of Willow as he branched and blossomed and introduced him to a precious acorn named Oak Brittle. Oak was quiet and timid but reflected the beauty of the forest with her shiny shell. At first Willow saw only his reflection until her beauty won him over and they fell in love.

Oak grew in the arms of Willow Wise. She produced many acorns and guarded them in her strong branches and sheltering leaves. Strong, brittle Oak and Wiley Willow were perfectly matched. Her guarded heart was softened by willow’s grace while he found strength in her unyielding love.

But time gives no deference to love and happiness and eventually Willow grew tired and could no longer draw nourishment from the forest floor. Oak was left with no reason to be strong and her brittleness became a burden. She would have bent like Willow if only she could but her destiny was to hollow out and only in the fragility of her shell would she yield to nature’s curtain call.

Soon Oak could not recall the willow ways. She heard the wind but from where it came she couldn’t tell. Her shiny acorn shell had given way to splintered bark and her leaves had all but fallen. But she would not be felled. Willow’s shadow had not waned and though her pithy memory had gone her resolution remained as she kept a place for him in her empty centre.

But when her brittleness was spent

She heard the willow call and bent

She paid no heed to mercy at the axes heft

But for willow’s arching grace her spirit left


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