lemon boy

Two years ago, I created a ritual to commemorate the son we would never bring home. Our first and only child. I was lost in despair, journaling and writing poetry. Trying to find my way through. 

Others did not know how to acknowledge his death, or how to deal with our grief. There was no public ceremony. There were no spoken words. There was some compassion and kindness. But like most on this journey, we were alone, trying to find our way to the path towards healing.  

I needed to create a meaningful space to acknowledge and memorialize our baby boy. I needed a way to signify the void left in our lives — the vast gaping hole that would never be filled — the life I had carried within, the child that would never grow to live, learn, laugh, and love. Our son.

I was devastated, forever transformed by the sorrow and anguish of grief. We would grieve our baby boy forever. We would hold a special place for him in our hearts always. We would never forget the joy he brought into our lives. Our first child. Our only child.

With his death our future was stolen — every hope and wish we had for this child was taken. I needed a way not just to honor the past, but to help light the way for a different future.

The only comfort that got me through those dark days was the hope of another child. We would try again. My hope for the future carried me through the darkness, struggling to find the light. 

I was looking to honor the past, to join the present, to cleanse myself for the future. I created a three-part ritual incorporating the four elements: earth, fire, water, and air. To begin we burned some sage. We read then burned a letter to our baby, signifying the past. We lit a candle to mark the present. And we planted a lemon tree in honor of our son and as a symbol of life for our new future. 

That was how Lemon Boy joined us. 

I can’t hold Lemon Boy in my arms, close to my heart, or tuck him in at night. But I can watch him grow. I can look at his blooms and see life. I can shower and care for him, feed and nurture him. We sustain him with love and attention. I take his success or his failure to thrive personally, as a reflection of my own ability as caregiver. 

So it was upsetting when we planted him with love and showed him great care that he never really fruited. He blooms in spring with gorgeous, sweet aromatic white flowers. The fragrance of lemon blooms can be quite intoxicating. He also buds with little nuggets of what would be lemons. But they never flourish and grow to full fruit. They shrivel up all hard and green and fall off dead. 

I know it can take time for a tree to yield edible fruit. He gets plenty of sun, the right amount of water, and excellent fertilizer. I’ve consulted with several professional gardeners. But we’ve never been able to determine why he just doesn’t grow full fruit. 

I try not to take this personally, or as a symbolic sign. Of course my twisted mind tells me that, like my son, maybe he just wasn’t mean to thrive. Yet there are signs of growth, new blooms, new shoots, new would-be lemons. I just hope they keep on growing. I don’t think I can handle another failure. 

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~ by luna on May 4, 2008.

17 Responses to “lemon boy”

  1. It is just a saying: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

    I hope you get to make your lemonade. The ceremony and the tree were a beautiful idea.

  2. Oh Luna. Right after maddy died, someone sent us two lilacs, one for each daughter. I didn’t want to name them, but of course it happened, and “Maddy’s” died. Bella’s practically grew into a tree. After looking at a stick in the ground for a few weeks, I finally got on the computer and ordered another. I walked out in the yard that morning to pull the stick out of the ground and on it were . . . buds. It’s alive. It’s small, bush size, but growing. Interesting how these plants somehow mimic our children, skirting death, never quite thriving in the ways that they should. They are indeed the perfect reminders.

  3. Rather than edit this post, I thought I’d add here why we chose a lemon tree. As Sharon said above, life gave us lemons, and we had the same thought about making lemonade. Lemons are both bitter and sweet and so the idea resonated instantly. Also, when I was pregnant, I craved lemon in everything, especially in water. And of course, we wanted to experience life sprouting from fertile soil, and the fruit would give us something to look forward to. We could mark the growth of this young tree, its sweet blossoms and fruit would bloom in honor of our boy, and we could all grow together.

  4. Since C died, I have struggled with the idea of how I can memorialize him in a meaningful way. My most recent idea is planting a memorial garden in our backyard, where we plan to watch his brother and sister play and grow. I love the idea of the lemon tree, or any tree bearing fruit or flower. It is hardly an adequate replacement for the children we can’t have, but I can see how you would take that tree, nurture it, cultivate it and find some measure of comfort simply watching it thrive. It is a wonderful tribute to your son; I hope it bears big, beautiful lemons for you this year, Luna.

  5. My god, Luna — your beautiful posts just floor me. This one gets me wondering about how I should memorialize my own losses — it’s something I’ve thought about on/off, but I’m not sure what’s “right”. As if there’s such a thing…

    Wishing I could relax in that fantastic garden of yours! (Please don’t call the cops if you hear some crazy drunk infertile woman clammoring around the bushes… :))

  6. I really hope that tree starts growing some brilliant, delicious lemons for you!

  7. The ceremony and intention behind Lemon Boy are so beautiful, Luna. Thank you for sharing it – I’ve been thinking lately about the need to perform some rituals to mark our place on the path right now and also what we’ve already come through. So I really appreciate hearing about your experience with this.

    I can understand how you would take the lack of fruit personally, but I hope you are gentle with yourself in this. There must be a practical reason why the fruit don’t grow – do lemon trees need a mate to cross pollinate with? I know some fruit trees won’t produce fruit if they’re all alone, but not sure if that applies to lemon trees. I know it’s not so good for the symbolism, but it might help the tree…

    And in response to your comment on my food porn post, I am lucky enough to be married to a man who doesn’t like desert! He only likes very intense chocolate deserts, and even those he rarely orders. He just doesn’t like the whole thing about having something sweet after a savoury meal. So he had a tiny bite but the cheesecake was all mine! Glad you enjoyed the post – it was just too good a meal not to share with the world. And you’re right – the mussels were definitely a highlight.

  8. This is such a beautiful way of remembering your son, Luna. It must be so hard not to take the tree’s refusal to flourish as sign, but I agree with annacyclopedia – you must be gentle with yourself. Sometimes things simply don’t grow, no matter how much care and attention we lavish on them (my father would be delighted to share with you the trials and tribulations of his attempts to grow purple sprouting broccoli, if you need any reassurance in this respect!).

    Thank you so much for sharing your ceremony with us – as others have already said, you make some wonderful suggestions as to how to mark a loss.

  9. Maybe Lemon Boy needs a friend. Sometimes fruiting trees are more productive when they have company to exchange pollen, etc. with. I’m completely ignorant of lemon trees’ preferences in this department, but might be worth a shot.

  10. That is a great idea. Society truly gives us no tools to work with – I am glad you developed you own.

  11. I don’t know how to commemorate our son. I think a tree is a lovely, lovely idea except I am too scared I would kill it. I think you are so brave to have planted lemon boy and I love the picture of the two lemons. I’m very happy to see the new growth. Maybe things just move slower than we expect but there is growth and life all the same?

  12. What a lovely thought. What a lovely post. You always make me cry.

    A week ago I passed the 2-year anniversary of my first miscarriage. It wasn’t like your loss, where you got to know your son. It was at 6 weeks, where our baby was just a glimmer of an idea, without gender or form. Sometimes I’m sorry that we never did anything to memorialize it, or the ones to follow, but there’s something about a very early loss that makes you just want to stuff it back down in your heart, sure to be replaced by a real live child someday.

    Now, two years later, I just feel bitter that I haven’t been able to fill the hole.

    How are you holding up, by the way? The last I heard your doctor was fanning the not-so-welcome flames of hope all over you.

  13. This is so– beautiful and touching. Thank you for sharing pieces of your heart and soul. I hope your lemon tree keeps on growing and that it will give you strenght and hope to keep pushing forward. Sometimes its all we can do.

  14. There are so many unknowns in nature. If love and dedication were the answer there would be a grove of bountiful lemon trees to reflect your beautiful tribute.

  15. Luna, btw, you’re welcome anytime to dinner. Let me know if your travels ever take you to the remote Fly-Over Zone. We’re always eager to show off our lovely little corner of Podunk.

    You’re in my thoughts.

  16. As you have done many times before, you’ve left me nearly speechless.

    I’ve given you an award, luna. Head over to my place to check it out.

    As always, I am thinking of you.

  17. […] loss of habitat, pesticides, climate change, and disease? Maybe this is also the reason our lemon boy won’t […]

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