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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

It has not been long since your spirit departed from this earthly plane. I am still learning how to grieve and am certain that it has not yet fully blossomed, nor if it ever will. There is not a day that passes that you do not enter into my thoughts and prayers.

In this life, you provided many valuable lessons. I am grateful for my awareness of them and that I am open and continue to receive.

Now that I am home, in Sandwich, I often visit "my tree." The view of our house and barn is appropriately in the background. Being there, at the edge of the field, always transports me. It's as if I am in a painting. I feel everyone's presence. The landscape is eerily unchanged.

I am sharing a section of the preface of my recent book, which was dedicated to you. Nothing happens by accident. I hope today, on what would have been your 88th birthday, and every day, that you are in peace.

I love you.



Tree, Sandwich, NH, Mj Pettengill
My Tree, Mj Pettengill, Sandwich, NH

"Over and above the research, I had not experienced or fully anticipated the emotional depth of losing one’s mother. Whether living in an upscale home, a crowded tenement, or a dismal almshouse in rural New Hampshire, this loss is momentous.

As I was preparing to write this novel, my own mother fell ill. It was not a lengthy illness, but it brought her to the grave. To write about a child enduring the loss of his mother at that time was inconceivable. At a loss for words, I stared at the blank page. In time, I accepted my state of ungrieving. I had an idea of what I wished to convey in Samuel’s story, so I wrote. It was dispassionate at best. I had stepped outside of myself when I penned over twenty chapters. Both inside and out, it was a long winter.

I needed to leave the Farm—Samuel, Abigail, and the others—behind. Day after day, I sat in the darkness of being “undaughtered.” I longed to experience my version of healthy grief. The deaths of our mothers had become messy, and I intended to keep them separate.

Leaving an opening for his return, I awaited his protests or for my walls to crumble. I resumed my creative, transformative work, often related to my ancestral roots. I have traced back centuries, swirling within the intricate bonds that transcend several generations.

The stories of my grandmother, my mother, and her twin sisters beckoned Sarah and Bess to the page. Along with a woman buried at the pauper cemetery, my great-grandmother inspired Nellie’s narrative. Acknowledgment invites healing, and it waits patiently in the wings.

I was ready. I scrapped the original chapters and started over, this time, hand in hand with Samuel. Together we witnessed maternal death. We made sure to view the world without her in it—to recover the senses—feel the wings of the crow, smell the fresh dirt, see that which was previously unseen, and hear the sounds silenced in our unknowing absence.

Like Samuel, I too climbed trees. My tree, also at the edge of a field, still stands today. The difference is, when I was eight-years-old, I fell from my tree. It was before I knew about magic as I do now. The skies were bright, and the summer winds high. I had nearly reached the crown.

It seemed as if hours had passed as I lay broken at the base of the tree. Finally, I was gathered up and carried away on a potato sack, loaded into a neighbor’s station wagon, and taken to the hospital, where I spent the summer in traction.

Until meeting Samuel, I was unaware that I had left a vital part of my soul in the heart of that tree. So, we climbed higher than I had ever climbed before. He brought me up to where the outstretched limbs touch the stars, where I retrieved the part of me that I had left behind. He then carefully guided me down to the thick, meandering roots—back home to a place of nourishment and self-care, where once again, I became whole." (Excerpt from the Preface of Down from the Tree )


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