It was his sixth birthday but no one was happy. Mum sat downstairs in the kitchen with her head resting on the kitchen table. They were going to celebrate his birthday on Saturday instead, not today. Today was a sad day, the saddest day he could think of since his fifth birthday. That day had been worse, that was the day they got the message, the terrible message that changed their whole life. They were waiting for dad to come home to a fantastic party with cakes and balloons, games and lots of children. Instead, they received a phone call from the hospital. Dad was dead.
Outside the bedroom window, beyond the fence and the field, he could see the forest. A beautiful forest, not big, but old. With trees, rabbits, and birds and during summer time, lots of flowers. Grandpa had told many tales about the woodland life to the boy during the last year and now the boy was standing at the bedroom window, waiting for Grandpa to come out of the forest to tell a new story. A story that could give an answer to the boy’s question about death and if they ever would see Dad again.
It was now winter. The time felt long and slow before the boy could catch a glimpse of Grandpa’s silhouette as he was walking out of the cold, frozen forest. The field was rimed over with ice, leaving a lasting path of footprints after the aged man.
“Yes! There he is,” the boy said to himself, relieved.
Shortly after, he could hear Grandpa talking to Mum downstairs in the kitchen. In order to listen to what they were saying he had to open his bedroom door, but still it was not easy to hear their whispering voices. “Please just leave me alone, I am not in the mood for your tales today, Dad. Go to your grandson instead, he needs you.”
A chair was grinding on the kitchen floor, giving space for Grandpa to sit down. “The one who needs me most just now is you, not my grandson. He will be fine, the day you get out of your depression and start living a normal life again,” Grandpa said in a soft voice.
Mum blew her nose loudly, “I am not capable of living a normal life after this, I am angry and I am frightened,” she replied trying to keep her voice down. “Actually, I don’t understand why we are here, life doesn’t make sense anymore. And God! There was a time I believed he was a loving father, but he’s not! He is cruel and evil, he doesn’t even care if we are dead or alive.”
The boy tiptoed down the stairs and peeked through the half-open kitchen door. He could see Grandpa taking Mum’s hand up from the table. “When your mother died I had the same feeling as you have now,” he heard Grandpa say with a growing lump in his throat, “and just the same frightening feeling came back to me when I got the terrible message one year ago. But since then,” Grandpa’s voice started to clear up, “since then I have been thinking and asking, trying to find answers to all my questions. And what I discovered is that I can’t believe in death, at least not the way we normally understand it.”
“Please Dad…, don’t try to convince me that death isn’t real. People are dying everywhere; they are not here anymore!”
“That’s what you think because you just believe in what you can see with your eyes, Grandpa replied, he was smiling now. “If we believe that we are only bodies, death would indeed be real. But we are not. We are spirits! The body is only there as a tool of communication. Birth is not the beginning and death is not the end. What we know is not necessarily all there is to learn. Our journey has just begun my dear,” he said, rising slowly to his feet. “I am going upstairs. Please come with me, I am sure you will enjoy my tale today.”
The boy was already sitting waiting for his Mum and Grandpa, when Grandpa opened the bedroom door, “now, are you ready for a new and fresh tale from the forest, my big boy?” he asked cheerfully with a broad smile over his heartwarming face.
“Yes, Grandpa, I’m ready. I’ve been ready a long time now.” the boy said while he curled up on Grandpa’s lap to let Grandpa start his story.
“Do you remember all the buttercups, violets and the anemones in the open clearing of the forest at springtime?” Grandpa asked glancing first at his daughter in the chair by the window and then down at his grandson. Both nodded, the boy more intense than his mother.
“Yes, I remember!” the boy said eagerly.
“This is a tale about the Anemones, a little family of twelve flowers who had just settled in the forest. All plants and animals in the woods were very fond and proud of this charming little family. Actually, they were always happy about new arrivals coming to help them make the forest beautiful. And if someone died or otherwise disappeared from the forest they would be sad, just like us.
Everything was perfectly fine until one day when two young girls discovered this wonderful flowery meadow. At the moment they noticed the lovely Anemones, the girls ran over to the stump where the Anemones were growing and started to pick the flowers. Only one was left behind, one was squeezed under the girls’ shoes and impossible to save, the other ten, the girls brought with them out of the forest. The little Anemone who was left behind cried, for hours and days, it was impossible to comfort her.
Everyone in the forest tried to lift the spirit of the Anemone who was now more dead than alive from her exhausting grief. The flowers, birds, bees, and bumblebees had all done their best. The rabbit family, the hedgehogs, even a sleepy adder came up to the stump one day and tried to cheer the sad Anemone with a funny rattling of his tongue, but nothing seemed to help. The only one who had not tried to get the Anemone out of her desperate sorrow was the old oak tree. If he couldn’t manage to raise the spirit of the Anemone, no one in the whole forest could,” Grandpa said giving his daughter a searching look.
“It was one member of the buttercups family, who finally asked the oak tree to assist them.” Grandpa continued. “Please help us old, wise oak tree. You are the only one here that has lived long enough to be able to resolve this terrible situation.”
The old wrinkled oak tree glimpsed down at the flowery meadow in the clearing and smiled with sympathy, “thank you for your confidence, he said, “but the way I see it, this situation doesn’t have to be so difficult after all. It is always sad when someone we love leaves us, and this feeling can take a long time to overcome. But when we are able to look at the situation from a different angle, this is an opportunity to finally understand why we are here, and to discover the purpose of our lives,” the oak tree said with a mild tone of authority.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” cried the Anemone. The old oak tree let one of his leaves fall to wipe away the tears of the sad face of the white flower, “the reason why we are here is not to protect ourselves from the world,” he said, “but to serve and make the world feel happy, because this is the only way we can grow and be happy ourselves.”
“It is still difficult for us to understand,” said one of the violets who had been safely underground when the accident happened.
The old oak tree glanced patiently down at all the flowers, birds and animals that were sitting listening on the ground in front of him, “if you were tall enough to see the delightful faces of the two girls when they ran out of the forest, you would be able to understand.”
“But what about the little anemone child who was squeezed down, he was never able to serve us or make anyone happy,” the sad Anemone gasped.
“Of course he did!” the oak tree replied, “he made everyone in the forest happy and now he serves us by fertilizing the soil.”
“But, I miss my family so tremendously,” cried the poor Anemone.
“Don’t cry, my dear, don’t cry! You see, actually, you have not lost anyone in your family. Your spirit is not placed in the flower, but in the roots underground. It doesn’t matter if someone dies before the others because when a new spring arrives you will all meet again,” the old wrinkled oak explained comfortingly.
“What happened, did she meet her family again?” the grandson asked when he understood that this was the end of the tale.
Grandpa smiled, “yes indeed she did, and not only those eleven Anemones she lost the spring day before. The following year they had doubled in number, the second year they had tripled, and now, more than a hundred years later, how many do you think they are?”
“Thousands!” the grandson burst out.
“Even more!” Mum said with some twinkling tears in her smiling eyes.
Grandpa leaned forward and kissed his grandson on the cheek, “there are so many anemones in the forest that it is impossible to count them,” he whispered. “And if some of them in springtime get picked up by a boy and his mother or someone else, on their walk through the forest, they will smile and remember the oaks words. They have lost no one because their spirit is not in the flower, but in their roots underground.”