'A place of healing and remembrance' Marker: Under a tree, by the roadside, near Loch Raven Reservoir, lies a heart-breaking memorial to a lost son.

March 04, 1998|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

The letter is nailed at eye level to a two-pronged pine tree, just above a miniature wooden cross. The cross is staked in the ground below, where off-red, yellowing flowers have been laid to rest.

"To Those Who Stop," begins the typewritten letter, protected in plastic. "I know these flowers seem odd, maybe even silly.

"But even without the flowers, this spot and this tree, have become a place of reverence and mourning to those who knew the young man who died here. It's not so much a shrine or memorial to him, but a place of healing and remembrance to those who are left behind to grieve the loss of a loved one ..."

In the weekday wind, the pine tree creaks and Loch Raven Reservoir ripples. Squirrels crunch about the woods. Upended beer bottles have joined the roadside memorial for Billy. He died the night after Christmas. The letter doesn't say how.

"... I loved this person as he was growing up. I fished with him in this very lake, and later in life, I fought with him, as most parents do for whatever reason, with their children. So as I said before, it may seem odd or silly that these items surround this tree. Please allow them to remain, for the healing's not just for me."

The letter is signed: "A Father in Mourning."

Billy's father is not alone here. Another message, smeared by wet leaves, says in flowery letters: "Remember these things: You are valued. You are precious. You are needed. You are loved." Is this any consolation? The tree is silent.

On Feb. 1, someone else wrote to Billy. Your family and friends miss you deeply, they say. "We long to hear your laughter but that will not be," says the message, stapled into the tree bark. "So for now, we will keep you safely in our hearts."

Two weeks later, someone else stopped along these two quiet lanes of Dulaney Valley Road. "I was very moved by the letter because I too lost someone very close to me," someone's mother wrote to Billy's father. Her letter is duct-taped to the pine tree. "My son and I said a prayer for your son while we were here ... time will help heal the pain.

"Your letter is not in vain," it continues. "Please know there are people thinking and praying for your family and your son. For myself, the most ironic part was noticing your son passed on my birthday."

The letter is signed: "God Bless, Debbie."

Billy's 21st birthday would have been yesterday, and it was marked by fresh flowers, balloons and letters. "This was the day he looked forward to most and would, I'm sure, have been the biggest blow-out ever," says a message thumb-tacked into the tree.

A king of hearts playing card, a Harp's beer bottle and a piece of birthday cake have taken their place at the roadside memorial. And Billy's activated beeper, we read, has been passed along to a surviving friend.

"So, if you're thinking of him, too, and want to send him a birthday wish," the birthday note says, "please feel free to call his beeper."

Billy's father needn't have worried. Nothing seems odd or silly on this spot.

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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