top of page
  • Writer's picturewendybrd

Severed Roots: Cycles of Life by Wendy Peterman, PhD

Updated: May 31, 2021

Different species of trees form relationships with specific species of fungi, and in a way, these fungi function as a sort of nervous system of the forest by transmitting messages and aid between trees. Through these underground networks, trees can send water and nutrients to nurse sick, elderly, or young members of their communities back to health.

Some researchers interpret trees as having feelings and suggest they experience grief when a member of their community is lost, especially if they have spent decades fostering its growth. It has also been suggested that trees in parks and cities feel isolated and confused about their ecological roles, and thus fail to thrive.

Like our forest friends, we are interdependent members of nested ecosystems who rely on each other for nurturing, protection and sustenance. We gain our identities, not only from our inner experiences and responses to stimuli but from the reflections we see in our external world where our nervous systems form. Attachments to others are essential to our survival and development of our very identities. We call bonds of attachment to others “love,” and when these attachments are severed through physical separation or death, we experience tremendous loss.

Love is a state where we are seen by others with our strengths and weaknesses, our hopes and fears, our mistakes and habits, our shining moments, and dark nights of the soul. We might have this connection with people from our families of origin or friends we meet along the way. Some may be romantic partners. These bonds ebb and flow over time. Sometimes they’re broken, and sometimes they fade away. Often, in the beginning, we can never really tell how strong the bonds will be. Twenty years down the road, we may look around at who is in our network of attachments and be very surprised by the faces we see.

Other times, like the tree whose protege gets cut down, we may be shocked to see who is no longer standing by our sides. Depending on the type and length of these connections, we may experience deep grief and even lost aspects of our own identities. I have experienced two such losses in my life that I am learning to carry with me as a part of my evolving identity.

Both people I lost were close childhood friends and family members, so I knew them in the formative years of my psyche. We had known and supported each other through traumas and hardships and forgiven each other for countless childish behaviors. With them, I felt a deep sense of connection, belonging, and interdependence. I felt seen as weak and strong, beautiful and ugly, kind and unkind, yet always worthy of love.

I have found the process of living with grief like hiking up a steep slope or walking in deep snow. One foot is placed intentionally in front of the other. Deep breaths are drawn in and out. The path isn’t easy, though sometimes it becomes somewhat habitual and then difficult again. At times, we need to stop and give ourselves a chance to recover before continuing with the steady march forward. At other times, we try to push through, swearing and complaining at the strain as we trip and stumble in our rush to make progress. Some people feel annoyed or frustrated at the pace of the trudging and pressure us to “let go,” “be happy,” or “move on.” Fortunately, I don’t have many of these people in my life. As we are able, we do “let go and be happy,” and we are always moving on.

When our identities are deeply tied to others with whom we spend long periods of time and deeply connect, it can be hard to know who we are without them. My mom once commented soon after I lost my spouse sixteen years ago that half of me was gone, and I needed to learn to fill the emptiness with myself. There is definitely a sense of growing into that space in our psyches that was once occupied by someone else when they are no longer there, telling their jokes, playing their music, smiling their smiles, offering their opinions, and reflecting our own feelings and behaviors back to us.

Over time, and with patient attention and focus, we can get a sense of “I am me.” I am the person who wakes up in this body and makes each and every choice for it all day, every day. I am the person who feels the feelings and benefits from the learning of this mind in every moment. I am the person who embraces this life with gratitude for what I am given. I am someone who loves deeply and is deeply loved.

47 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page