Trees of Transition

Comfort for people going through life transitions by sharing thoughts, photos, cards, and recipes.

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Two Book Reviews on World War II books in Honor of My Dad

Today my Dad would have been 82, so I got choked up thinking about him. It’s funny that since he passed last summer, my memories of him have shifted from thinking of him as he was at the end—shriveled, old, sick to when he was active, vibrant, and helpful. My dreams have also helped: A couple weeks ago I had a dream where my Dad was helping me fix something, and he was loving and healthy! In honor of my Dad, here are two book reviews of books set during World War II that I highly recommend reading. My Dad loved books about World War II, and he would have loved reading them.

This winter I read two books about World War II: One fiction and the other nonfiction. One focuses on England, one on Germany, but both about people grappling with war and all the transition and change that it brings.

I have been thinking about the transition of gaining the strength to stand up for what is right instead of letting things slide and enabling evil to grow…

Have you wondered how the people of Germany reached the point where their leaders were commanding them to kill thousands of Jewish people, people with disabilities, and many other people in concentration camps? I have, but I never read about how the German people let this happen until now when I read: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. This book is about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, pastor, author, and professor who stood up to the Nazi party and aided in an attempt to try and assassinate Hitler.

Eric Metaxas crafted this 500 plus page book in a way that never gets dry, is a page-turner, and shows the background of the country and people of Germany in a way I have never read before. Metaxas explains the factors that built up in Germany after the defeat of World War I so that the people wanted a strong leader, and eventually they were willing to have Hitler fill that role.

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Remembering Uncle Chris


I only knew my husband’s Uncle Chris for 2 ½ years, but I remember his leathery cheeks pulled up into a smile that burst with kindness. I first met him at Christmastime when Stephen took me to California to meet his family in 2014. Uncle Chris was Stephen’s Dad’s older brother who lived nearby and loved helping out and driving with us to the airport when we had to fly home.

A year after I met Uncle Chris, Stephen and I were engaged and the family put together a surprise bridal shower for us on New Years Day in 2016. That day we received the only card from him while I knew him, but I am so glad we kept it. He gave us an Amazon gift card (that we used to buy a Tiffany lamp), and he wrote us this message:

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Bittersweet Shift

The word to describe yesterday would be bittersweet: In the morning, the reality of my Dad possibly passing away soon hit home. I’m thankful for tears and the release they bring. Then I switched gears to party preparations for a party for my fiancé passing a huge test that advances his career. I went over to his house, turned on a funny movie and got chopping: white chili, finished the red chili, fruit salsa… Continue reading

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Shooting Outside My Window

The sound of gunfire is not new,
But it is connected with hunting deer,
Not humans shooting at each other in a large city filled with babies in their mother’s arms, toddler’s running ahead of their parents down a street, and youth hanging out on the front steps.
At first I hoped it was just fireworks left over after Independence Day, but it has continued. An occasional pop, pop, pop…
On the building next to mine, R.I.P in black sharpie is written on the wall in remembrance of a guy who died there last fall.
It saddens me, scares me a little, but then I remember Who called me here, and peace returns. I have the best body guard in the universe.
I’m a foreigner here, in the state where I was born, but a city to which I am called to love.
Hope fills my heart for this place; the shooting will end, the love will overflow. I am honored to be part of the process!

God, please end violence in our cities. You are the One who brings peace.
I invite You, the Prince of Peace, into this neighborhood. Thank you for what You are doing here! It is beautiful. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


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A Year Since a Sudden Good-bye

I didn’t get to say good-bye to my brother-in-law before he died. He hadn’t wanted people to know how sick he was, so my sister didn’t tell family until he was almost gone. I got to the hospital 30 minutes too late. What made it real was seeing his shrouded form underneath the sheet that covered him.
I did make it in time to love and support my sister. I mobilized people and found a church where we could have a service to honor Don’s life.

Don had a great smile, he loved to give. He designed amazing furniture and was a true artist. He loved my sister and was her best friend for over 40 years. (This is making me tear up!)

He encouraged me in my career; he and my sister bought me fancy suits to wear to interviews. He was the first guy to buy me a necklace; I’m wearing it today.

He loved buying kids presents; he had a rough exterior, but a big, loving heart, and he is missed.

Good-bye, Don. See you on the other side.


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See You Later, Grandma Jane…Reflections About a Lady Who Inspired Me

Grandma Jane Elizabeth Read Latourette

She was a creative, energetic author and teacher who taught me how to write letters and who encouraged me to become a teacher.

Grandma bought me little plastic platform shoes for me and my sister when we were little, and we liked clicking them on the checker board floor of the basement until they broke. Grandpa glued them back together and then we broke them again with our clicking.

Grandma Jane taught me how to tie my shoes. I remember her showing me in the hallway outside their kitchen, and then I was able to tie my shoes myself!

She was an English and Speech teacher, and a writer! She wrote a lot of odes in honor of our birthdays and then little books of haikus for Christmas.

She was always writing my Mom letters, then when I was around 9 or 10 I started writing back and forth with Grandma and it didn’t stop until she couldn’t write anymore a few years ago.

She encouraged me in my writing and in becoming a teacher! It was exciting when I could tell her I got my teacher’s license. Grandma Jane believed in me, and it really helped me try teaching in Costa Rica and now in Chicago. Last year in my school’s library I found that they have two of Grandma’s children storybooks– Arch Books–there!

A week ago Saturday after Mom and I saw Grandma for the last time (the last thing I did was give her a hug, touch her warm hand one last time, and say “See you later! I love you.), we walked outside and Mom found a ginkgo leaf on the sidewalk–one of the old leaves from last year. Then on Tuesday, April 1st, it was Grandma’s time to let go and go to a better place.

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At her service last Sunday, I chose to read two of her poems that showed her skill as a poet, enthusiasm for life, and voice as a writer.

This one shows how she loved Philosophy and thinking about identity:

When There’s No “Next Thing” To Do
By Jane Latourette

I wonder where my mind and heart will wander
when “shoulds” and “oughts” have been removed;
when no obligatory chores remain, demanding to be done.
If given time and place and solitude,
will my own self emerge
in ways unknown til now,
to begin to tell me,
“This is really Who You Are”?
Or, am I a Mix of relationships
that pull me, willy-nilly
into time and energy-consuming actions,
So that, only if I make a place for solitude
Will I discover that part of ME I still don’t know?

And here’s the poem Grandma Jane wrote in honor of the ginkgo trees that loose their leaves all at once in one night!

The Ginkgo Gavotte
By Jane Latourette

Last night they agreed,
It was time to be freed,
Enough of being treed
branch-on-branch so proper.

Down, down they whirled and twirled,
In giddy, reckless flight–
Such storms of yellow light–
It seemed there was no stopper!

As the French peasants danced
in a quickened 4/4 time,
These fan-shaped joyous leaves
Had one last fling sublime.

Letting breezes blow them
In circles or straight lines,
Or zig-zag moves, or borne aloft.
No more the set designs.

Each one savored freedom,
If only for a spell–
Donated then their beings
For next season’s sentinel
Of green-leafed shade. Their offsprings
Would harsh hot sun dispell.

Now, I’m one of the writers and teachers left behind; Grandma Jane would have been happy to know that next week I get to teach my students how to write haiku poems.

See you later, Grandma Jane.

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Saying Good-bye to Jess Gelso Andres: Processing the Death of a Friend


Jess and Steve

On Wednesday, November 28th, 2013, sitting in the same room where nine years earlier we had celebrated the marriage of Jess and Steve, and now where we were celebrating the life of Jess after her sudden death was a strange, unnerving, and sad experience. There was hope, but it was mixed with grief. Many of the people who were in the youth group and in Steve’s worship band around the time when Jess and I were finishing high school were there, so it was reunion-like, but the reason to gather was not happy. Many people at the funeral knew Steve more than Jess, so here’s a bit of about this beautiful lady who is now peacefully with Jesus:

When I started attending the youth group at Calvary Church when I was sixteen, I was hesitant to fully jump in until I felt the welcome of many wonderful folks. One of the people I connected with was Jess Gelso. She had a bright smile, a gentle voice, sparkling eyes, and this wonderful dark, curly hair. She played soft-ball, and loved playing with kids.

We must have connected at the Intense Discipleship Training program Calvary offered during the summer. I remember helping out at the King’s Castle outreach that Jess was deeply involved with, so I think that’s where we connected, and it was over art!

Jess would drive an hour out to where I lived on a farm with my family, and she would hang out with all of us, but she and I would usually make something creative. I think she was the one who introduced me to using acrylic paint, and she taught me how to use hodge-podge glue to make collages of bits of paper.

Life moved on, but Jess and I would connect often at church and then occasionally hang out. Jess went away to college and came back, she fell in love with Steve, and then had an amazingly sparkly diamond on her finger. I had her over and we were making something at my parents’ kitchen table when she said, “Steve and I would love to have you be in our wedding!” I accepted and was SO excited to be part of their big day.

Jess chose an amazing bridesmaids dress for all of us bridesmaids to wear: It was the shade of eggplants, it was elegant and fun because it had a bit of netting underneath that made its long skirt to puff out just a bit. She gave each of us small silver crosses to wear. I’ve worn that dress and necklace multiple times since then.

Jess was the friend that helped me get started wearing make-up. She didn’t require me to wear it for the wedding, she just gave me some tips, and I was finally ready to learn.
Being with Jess and Steve on their wedding day was an honor. My favorite part was after they were married, we went outside into the chilly, clear October day to take photos on the hill next to the church. We were all so happy. It was freezing, but the photos turned out stellar. Jess told me one time that one of her favorite things about Steve is that he made her laugh.

After Jess became Mrs. Andres, I hung out with her every so often, but life picked up speed for both of us, so our visits got farther and farther apart. Many Christmas Eve services I would run over and say “Hi!” to her as she sat with the Andres clan. I would call and leave voice mails for her and we would occasionally text. The last text I had from her was on August 12th and she was letting me know I accidentally left a message for the Jess I work with on her voice mail, and she wanted me to know–she ended it with “:) hope you are well! Good night!” I texted her back letting her know I was well and with a photo of my nephew.

Even though the last season of my friendship with Jess wasn’t close, I always knew she was my friend. Now that I know I will never see her again, there’s a gap. How do you process losing a friend unexpectedly?

Here’s some things that are helping me:

My first response to the news was just to cry, so let yourself just cry and be sad.

I’m grateful I could attend the funeral and receive love from so many people that knew I had been friends with Jess. Hugs help a lot.

At the funeral I let myself feel the sadness, and when the casket passed by I said my final “good-bye.” The funeral was filled with photos, video, memories of her smiling, so that’s how I will remember her–her eyes sparkling and her wonderful laugh.

Talking about Jess with people who knew her has helped, and writing about her helps too.

I’m so thankful that Jess was part of my life. She gently loved me, encouraged me, and I’m so glad we created things together. Jess is missed, and I will not forget her. I’m glad she can now create with colors none of us have ever seen, and she gets to be with Jesus.

Jess, give Jesus a hug from me, and let Him give you a hug from me. I’ll see you later, Jess.

Heaven is richer now.

Jess and Mary

~Mary Hope

Copyright 2017

P.S. A book that has helped me process grief is:

A Grief Observed  by C. S. Lewis. Check it out. It is also an audio book: A Grief Observed Audio Book

Thank you for stopping by! I insert affiliate links, such as to  Amazon, into my posts to share interesting books and products. If you buy something or start a registry, I receive income, for which I am thankful. Please…

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Thank you again. Peace to you and your family!

~Mary Hope

Copyright 2017


Josh Marks’ Funeral: How One Family Celebrated a Life that Ended Too Soon and Thoughts on Transitioning Through a Season of Mourning


On Monday, October 21st, 2013, several hundred people gathered to celebrate the life of Josh Marks, second place winner of Season 3 MasterChef reality TV show, basketball player, loving son and brother. How do you have a funeral for someone whose life tragically ended by his own hand during a time of mental confusion? I found out that how you do it is to just do it: celebrate all the wonderful life that person DID live. Focus on the life, not the death.

The only time I had interacted with Josh was a few weeks earlier. One student I was with recognized him and wanted to high five him, so I helped them connect. I got Josh’s attention and he smiled, reached out to the student to touch his hand, then the student was shyly grinning back as they high fived. The funeral reflected this part of Josh: how he loved and reached out to so many people.

The funeral service was crafted beautifully. Several of his closest friends from college shared how Josh encouraged them and would stay up until 3 or 4am to study with them. Josh’s family chose to show a video he had made of himself; he had recorded himself singing in order to practice speaking more clearly and smoothly (he explained that to us).  Before he started singing, he just talked a while (and drank from his glass of water!) From what he said, we all learned that he could make fun of himself, he wanted to grow and get better in life, and the most powerful thing he said was, “I want to be like Jesus and feed the masses.”

He didn’t cook to get famous, he cooked because he loved people and knew that food is a wonderful way to show love. One friend shared how even though one time Josh didn’t have much money, he chose to buy a homeless lady a pizza while he was hanging out with his friends. One way his family honored Josh was to provide wonderful food before and after the funeral service. Most of us were crying during parts of the service and then laughing during parts; Josh’s family composed a beautiful gathering to honor Josh’s life and celebrate his faith.

How do we transition through the time after someone we care for commits suicide?
From this experience I learned a few ways:

Let people know what is going on and let them come around and love you. Josh’s family was honest about what happened, and they let people come around and love them.

Celebrate all the wonderful things about the person that has passed; focus on the positive (feel the negative, process it, but choose to dwell on the good things about that person).

Having a funeral really helps. Just watching the family and friends that were close to Josh say good-bye to his body at the front of the church had me crying. Cry. Say “Good-bye.” Being able to see the body helps you realize the person is gone. Express your sadness.

Faith in God brings support and comfort. God can handle anger, so if you’re mad at Him for letting this person die, scream at Him if you need to: He can handle it, and He will always love you.

At the end of Josh’s funeral, a cousin sang “Amazing Grace.” I believe there’s enough amazing grace and love to support Josh’s family and friends and supporters through this loss. The funeral service, as it said on the program, truly celebrated God’s humble servant, Josh Marks.


P.S. A book that has helped me process grief is:

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis. Check it out. It is also an audio book: A Grief Observed Audio Book

Copyright 2017

Josh’s Mom encouraged me to link Josh’s words that they shared at his funeral, so here they are: