Sweet Gum: In the Sshadow of Cancer

This morning, I took my children to the gardening center to pick out a tree. We browsed the outdoor aisles to find just the right one, one that would grow tall and broad in a wide-open pasture to mark and shelter the grave of a horse.

Not our horse, mind you. Though I like animals (even the lowly lizards), these days I am strictly a one-dog woman.

This horse, Sshadow (no typo here — those in the horse world can explain the naming of horses), was the one my daughter would ride most often on the days she went out to the barn. A dusky white Arabian gelding, Sshadow was known to be of sweet temperament, patient with all riders, reliable, congenial, and dignified. It wasn’t long ago that my daughter, at 15, the same age as Sshadow, taught him to ride through standing water. Here is a photo of that ride, which Sshadow’s owner (another Julie) sent to me on that same day.

When Julie sent news this week of Sshadow’s death, we were shocked, in the way any of us are shocked to hear of something so unexpected and sad. When she mentioned that she’d like to plant a tree as a memorial in the place Sshadow was buried, I volunteered to supply the tree.

Gum trees in the park

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so, we made the trip to the garden center, where, after full discussion (a maple? a locust? surely not a pony plum or a horse chestnut – that would be too cliché), we decided on a sweet gum tree. It would grow 60 feet tall, 25 feet wide, and had symmetrical branches with five-pointed leaves that would turn red and gold in the fall. When we paid for the tree, I rejected the cashier’s suggestion that we buy compost and fertilizer for planting. She looked at me oddly when I explained that the tree would be planted in a pasture.

So there we were, the four of us, to dig the hole and situate the tree by Sshadow’s grave, in the upper pasture on the farm with a view of the entire property and the mountains to the west. As we dug and planted, adding compost the farm naturally produces, Julie told us of how she had found Sshadow lying still in the pasture that day when she got home from work, the other horses grazing calmly around. Sshadow had always had a heart murmur and his death was likely the result of a heart attack or stroke, phenomena not uncommon for us humans as well. She explained that she wanted the tree placed just so, to throw a shadow over the grave at 5 o’clock, the time she estimates that Sshadow died.

So what does the death of a horse have to do with cancer, that I should write about it here?

Well, it’s this. Julie’s spouse was recently diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing that same battery of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation that too many of us have been through. I trust that her spouse will come through it, as many of us have (with great good fortune), but I know their lives are forever changed. Once that bubble bursts, as a friend put it to me, and you’re forced to realize your lack of safety and ultimate vulnerability, there’s no going back. You realize how you’ve taken for granted that you will be here tomorrow. But every day, Cancer speaks in your ear and says, “You never know!”

I am now 3 years past diagnosis. I no longer obsess over the fact that I’ve had cancer, but the thought is rarely out of my mind, and panic can easily set in when some new body sensation appears. Like many people with other threatening diseases, I have become more sharply aware of and sensitive to the events, emotions, and activities that course through a single day. I’m left with the feeling that I should be doing something grander with my life, say, solving world hunger, or negotiating peace in the Middle East.

Instead, I am here, doing the dishes, brushing the dog, planning my classes for the fall, teaching my daughter to drive. From the outside, my life seems nothing out of the ordinary. From the inside, I can tell you, it is everything.

I do not know Julie’s spouse well and can do very little to help him directly, but I can do what I can to help Julie, for she is on this journey as well, and care of the caretaker is equally important. And so I buy a tree. So that Sshadow can have his 5 o’clock shadow.


S-Shadow (Photo credit: neufcent9)


4 Responses to “Sweet Gum: In the Sshadow of Cancer”

  1. Dee Says:

    Sshadow’s life was enriched by his relationship with someone as special as Naomi and I’ll bet her is better for having had him as a friend.

  2. lat Says:

    Cancer or no cancer…

    I have always believed (though not always appreciated or was appreciated by others) that where you are, where ever you are, is just where you are meant to be.

    Raising and teaching your kids, doing those endless household chores, being a friend, being a spouse to your spouse, and family to family, all in no uncertain terms (or sequence of importance) is who you are and what you do. While it may seem unimportant or trivial at the time, even if you are not appreciated now for all that you do, all that you are, all that you spend each minute of every day, in time the treasure of all those planted seeds will be revealed.

    Today is everything because it is now. The tomorrows that follow will show just how important it was to live life in the present. When all is said and done in the end, it is the little things that carry the greatest wealth of your life.

    The circle of life comes around and goes around. While we cannot control life, we can certainly learn to appreciate all that comes when it comes so as not to regret when it goes. This is just where you are meant to be. Make the most of it while you are able for tomorrow it will be gone.

    Cancer or no cancer… it is the same for us all.

    • Julie Yamamoto Says:

      Aha – so you’ve figured out my secret! This isn’t really a blog about cancer. Cancer is just the thing I had to face to remind me of these truths. Everyone gets their own hurdles (if they’re paying attention).

  3. lat Says:

    YaY, Naomi!! Ride on, Naomi! Patience to teach… what a talent. Be proud! I bet sShadow was most appreciative of you!

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