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Matthew’s Tree

A father experiences angelic healing and finds peace in the beauty of a dogwood tree he had planted in memory of his son.

Angelic healing through tree

The dogwood tree is as high as our house, and when it blossoms in the spring, my wife, Susan, and I are overwhelmed. The luminous white petals of the flowers spread out like large four-leaf clovers against the blue sky. Seventeen years ago I could never have imagined its beauty.

The tree was planted in memory of our son Matthew, who died when he was 18 years old. He was a beginning freshman in college. His body was discovered on the ground outside his dorm on the last day of October in 1989. We were told that Matthew had either fallen or jumped off the roof after a night of heavy drinking. Over time I tried to fit together the pieces of my son’s short life. I learned that Matthew used his charm and good looks to hide a deep depression from most of us who thought we knew him. The evidence indicated that his death was not accidental. I had been a teacher for years. I thought I knew everything about children. How was it possible I didn’t know my own son? If I’d been a better father, would he still be with us? Why did it end in this terrible way? There were no words to express my grief. I couldn’t find words even to pray. 

The following spring Susan and I decided a living memorial would honor Matthew in the best possible way. We chose a mail-order dogwood tree for an area near the house. I don’t know what I was expecting, but when it arrived it looked like nothing more than a five-foot stick with pimples. “That’s it?” I said skeptically. “Give it a chance,” Susan said. “It will grow.” But I was disappointed. “Nothing will ever come of that stick,” I said. I ignored it for a day before I planted it.

I watered it every day all summer, but it still looked like a stick in the ground. A dead stick. What more could I do? I was frustrated. With the tree. With myself. “I should have done more for Matthew,” I said to Susan one evening. There had been signs. He started drinking too much in his senior year of high school. We took him to a counselor, but really I was more concerned about my work. It had always come first. When Matthew won the cross-country championship at school, I had been too busy working to go to the race. 

The weeks of summer went by, and the stick mocked my pain. I hated the thing. Pull it up! I said to myself. Throw it away! But I couldn’t destroy the tree because we had chosen it for Matthew. Please, God, show me your way.

September arrived with its coolness and changing leaves. Soon a year would have passed since Matthew’s death. I stared at the stick in the ground. I wanted to cry and let my tears bring it back to life, to bring my son back to life, but I knew that was not possible. I reached out and gently pulled up the dead stick.

I walked toward the backyard to throw it away. I looked down at the thing in my hand. What was that? It was so small my first instinct was to ignore it. But I looked again. A small green bud grew at the base of the stick. I got my clippers and carefully cut off the dead parts above it. What was left was no more than a few inches high. But there was that small, green, oh-so-delicate bud. I replanted the piece of wood with a newfound sense of hope. Maybe this could still be the living memorial for Matthew that we’d planned. Did God know how much I needed it? Could I somehow believe my son had found the happiness in heaven that he hadn’t known here on earth? 

Today the beauty of the tree is beyond imagining. A gift for my son has become his gift to us all. The seeds of change, growth and healing are ever present in our lives. Matthew will always be with us. His tree shows the power of hope itself.

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