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Beneath a Crooked Tree
by Lori Eldridge

The first Saturday in September was a cold but beautiful day for a hike in the mountains. Leaves on the Quaking Aspens were turning different shades of gold and fluttering to the ground in the breeze. Tall spires of Tamarack sprinkled the ground with a shower of golden needles.

I asked my friend Diana to come with me because I had never hiked Mount Spokane before. She suggested we head for a spot with a good view she discovered the previous week. We hiked two miles up and around the mountain.

Diana and I had hiked many mountain trails in our four year friendship, however, on this occasion I carried an eight pound burden in my backpack-the same eight pounds I once carried in my womb.

I had asked Diana to help me give my son, Wayne, a proper burial. I couldn't wait any longer for my husband to help me. Wayne deserved something better than being stuffed in the back of a dark cupboard for eight years.

We didn't talk much on our climb up the mountain. Even though the scenery was beautiful, nothing we could say seemed important enough to break the silence. Sharp edges of the eight inch box dug into my back with every step, a constant reminder of our mission.

The climb was steep. At times I thought my own heart would burst like Wayne's had from a ruptured aeorta. All my energy went into lifting one leaden foot in front of the other and grabbing for branches to pull myself up the hillside, trying not to slip on the rocky terrain.

I stopped every few feet to catch my breath as we neared the top of the hill. Diana, in better shape than I, asked, "Would you like me to carry the box for a while?" I appreciated her concern but knew this would be the last time I'd carry Wayne. I said, "Thanks, but I need to do this myself." The look of concern in her eyes quickly melted into a sad, knowing smile.

We came to a clearing with a spectacular view, but by then I realized it was far too difficult a climb for my family to ever reach. We went back to the truck and found a more accessible spot farther up the mountain, closer to the road.

Two months before Wayne died he called me from college in Arizona to tell me, "Mom, I just hiked to the top of 7,000 foot Mount Wilson all by myself." He told me about the beautiful scenery and the fire tower at the top, but then he said something that concerned me: "when I got to the top I sat down to rest. I didn't remember falling asleep but woke up 6 hours later, just before sunset. I had to hurry back down the mountain before dark."

His sleeping so long led me to think that he might have overworked his heart so I reminded him what his doctor had told him, "Just because your body is strong, doesn't mean that your heart is too." His doctor had approved of his getting involved in sports as long as he rested when he got tired. That was the last mountain he ever climbed.

I picked a clearing overlooking miles of hills receding in the distance, the same hills Wayne had hiked as an Explorer Scout the year before he died. I wanted a precise spot where I could bring my family rather than just scattering the ashes, so I picked a tree for a landmark that had its top broken off. I didn't realize this till later but this tree was symbolic of Wayne's death from a ruptured aorta-the top of his heart and the top of this tree had both broken off in a previous winter.



The Crooked Tree

Diana gathered up some large rocks for a marker while I dug a hole in front of the tree. I didn't want to pollute the countryside by leaving the plastic urn in the ground. I wanted
my son's ashes to become part of this mountain.

Afterwards we put the large rocks on top as a marker, but instead of stacking them I left them scattered over the spot because I didn't want anyone else to know this was a grave site.

We sat down in front of the grave to reminisce and say a prayer. I started out, "Thank you Lord for the 19 years you gave me with my son . . . " I couldn't go on. I choked on the words. Even though I knew God loved my son even more than I did, deep down in my heart I was asking, Why? Why? Why? He was too young! I started crying. Diana finished praying. Now we were both crying.

The sun was beginning to set by now. God blessed our special day with one of the most beautiful sunsets I'd ever seen. The clouds were turning different shades of pink and purple against a baby blue sky, with a crescent moon in the distance. I took several photographs of the surrounding area to show my family where I buried Wayne.

A few months later, while I was going through my family photos, I found some pictures Wayne took on his last climb up Mount Wilson. These photos, still in his camera when he died, shocked me because two of Wayne's pictures were almost identical to two pictures I had taken standing in front of his grave site in Washington.

The photo on the left is the one I took of the view from Mt. Spokane. The one on the right is what Wayne took from the top of Mt. Wilson in Arizona shortly before he died (you may have to scroll to the right to view both pictures).



These photos have not been altered in any way other than to eliminate some of the skyline in the top set of photos. Please notice Wayne's backpack and waterjug sitting on the top of the hill in his photo; it appears to be marking his final resting place in my photo. Also the tree on the left in Wayne's photo appears to have the top broken off -- just like the tree under which I buried him.

The photo on the left below is more scenery around Wayne's gravesite on Mt. Spokane. The one on the right is the scenery around the top of Mt. Wilson.



God had led us right to the very spot Wayne would have chosen and under the very tree that represented his death without my even knowing it. Praise God for his loving care and granting me peace beneath a crooked tree.

Note: Wayne died instantly, and without warning, from an Aortic Dissection which is the leading cause of death for those with Marfan Syndrome. No one else in the family has Marfans, praise the Lord!

Lori Eldridge
Copyright 8-12-94

I have also written a poem relaying my experience
after seeing the First Snow on Wayne's grave.


A friend has also written a poem about Wayne
and his accomplishments, called The Olympian


For more information about the Marfan Syndrome check out the following:
Nationa Marfan Foundation




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