The Remembering Tree: Where grief and joy live together

| December 23, 2021

The remembrance tree is found on State Route 60 on Ronnie Scurlock’s property. (Submitted)

In another effort to remember their son during the holidays while still celebrating the holidays, Doug and Judy Ugie have been busy decorating a very special tree. (Submitted)

The holidays can be a time of love, laughter, traditions and memory making, but they can also be extremely difficult to get through, especially if you have lost a loved one. Death and grief are a part of life, and they exist even on holidays. Unfortunately, so many people have lost loved ones this year, but one family has found a way to honor their loved one while embracing Christmas.

Doug and Judy Ugie lost their son, Taylor, in spring of this year. Taylor was a national honors student who had gone on to college and was holding down a job, in spite of a 10 year battle with drug addiction. When he had to undergo open heart surgery after surviving sepsis, the doctors said it was text book and successful. However, the family was warned that if Taylor went back to abusing drugs in the same manner he had been, he would not survive it. Taylor remained drug free for a few months post surgery, until he was enticed back into that lifestyle.
On May 11, 2021, the Ugie family experienced a loss like they had never experienced before. “Losing our son has taught us about compassion and about really feeling other people’s pain,” Judy said. Often people express their sympathy and think they know how someone mourning the loss of a loved one feels, but you never really feel the pain until you experience it yourself.
It has been a year of unimaginable heartbreak, amazing miracles, growth, and hope for the Ugies. Yes, they lost their son Taylor, but they have another son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren plus countless other family members who they are choosing to focus on. “We do not want to get so caught up in the grief that we forget to focus on the everyday blessings and on those who are still with us,” Judy said.
“This year we are first and foremost focusing on God because He has given us so many answers to so many prayers that we have prayed about our son, and we have experienced so many miracles. We know where our son is, and even though we have lost him, he isn’t really lost, and we will see him again someday,” Judy said. “There will be tears, and we will remember him. Then, we will be focusing on the family that is still here with us; our three grandchildren, our son and our daughter-in-law. It is important to do things for those who are still here, to let them know you love them and cherish them even in your grief, to make those who will be with us feel important and special. For us, we will continue with our tradition of Donald’s Donuts and breakfast casserole. We have two jelly filled donuts ordered, they were Taylor’s favorite. One of the donuts we will cut up and share and the other one will be left on the plate in remembrance of him.”
In another effort to remember their son during the holidays while still celebrating the holidays, the Ugie family has been thoughtfully busy decorating a very special tree. The tree is found on State Route 60. It is actually sitting on Ronnie Scurlock’s property. For over a year it has had a silver ornament adorning it. Early in December the Ugies noticed a train ornament had been placed on the tree, and they took that as a sign to proceed with making this particular tree a remembering tree.
After getting permission from Scurlock to decorate the tree, the Ugies set out with a purpose. They knew they wanted to add ornaments to the tree to remember their son, other family members, friends, and family members of friends who have lost a child or a loved one. They didn’t know it at the time, but that was the very reason the train ornament was placed on the tree. The widow of Kenny Moore placed the train ornament on the tree in hopes that others would place a special ornament on the tree to remember a loved one.
The Ugies asked permission from friends, family, and people in the community they knew lost a loved one. Once, they were given permission to hang an ornament, Doug and Judy went out and bought an ornament specifically for each individual who had passed, and then hung the ornaments on the tree. Others in the area have gone and hung ornaments too. Some of the ornaments have the person’s name on it while others do not. One person even reached out and asked if they could put solar lights out around the tree and another placed a tree topper on.
“It’s strange,” Judy said. “You feel like something is wrong, and for us, it’s that we’ve lost a child, but as my friend Lori Baker Davis who lost her grandson Owen says, it’s where grief and joy live together.”
This tree, on a state route, started out with just one ornament, but as the Ugies and others in the area have gone to honor their loved ones, the tree is now fully decorated in just a few short weeks. The Ugies do not plan to stop at Christmas, however. On the contrary, this couple has plans to decorate for other holidays too. “My husband and I have already been talking about him making heart ornaments to put on the tree for Valentine’s Day.” Hanging ornaments on a tree that sits outside near a state route may seem like a small gesture, but as the Ugies believe, it is the small acts of kindness or doing something special that bring people so much joy. It is what we need in the world right now. And the remembering tree is one place where grief and joy do live together.

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