Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Last Leaf

"October is a symphony
of permanence and change."
~ Bonaro W. Overstreet

As fall is quietly, nearly imperceptibly, ushered in, leaves on various trees and shrubs begin their slow decline. Their work of producing food for the plants is done and preparations are in order for the resting season. The angle of the sun's rays and shorter hours of daylight cause chemical changes to occur within leaves, revealing the yellows, oranges, reds, and browns that have been hidden there all along.

Watching this color show of autumn emerge, it is interesting to note the differences in the trees. Some shed their leaves quickly, seemingly dropping everything overnight. Others drop them gradually, one by one, often until only one leaf is left.

The year my father lay in the hospital, dying, my son and I took a train  to Montana to join my sisters in the bedside vigil. Our vacation that year had been planned for months and was to be several weeks later. Some things cannot wait, so we went early. Over the course of the week Dad hung on, clinging to life long after the doctor predicted. He was surprisingly lucid most of the time and although his strength was sapped to the point where he could barely speak, his eyes, and the squeeze of his hand, told us he knew we were there and took comfort in our all being together. We gave him a small notepad, where he would scratch out the few things he wanted to say. Our family has never been one that does much talking on deeply-felt emotions, but we all knew and understood: life is precious, had been lived fully, shared selflessly, and was coming to an end. We had loved each other well.

As I watched my energetic, robust father slowly ebb away, I was torn. I did not want to lose my Dad, for I loved him dearly and could not imagine life without him. But he was a mere shadow of his former self, was in pain, suffering, and I knew he did not relish this life as he once had, before Mom died and his health declined. I wanted him healthy and happy again, but I could do nothing to bring that back, so simply prayed for a quiet, peaceful ending. It did not come that week, so we packed up and went home, having other responsibilities and no idea how long the dying process would take. It took longer than any of us expected, but several weeks later we returned for his funeral. By then, reality had sunk in and I knew life without my mom and dad would never be the same.

Things changed, and indeed life never has been quite the same, but I cannot say that it is worse. There is always a gradual shifting between generations and when it is your turn to be one of the senior members of the clan you begin to see things differently. This is the time in life when one begins to sift through life memories and sort out the things that really matter - and to throw out the things that don't. When you realize that your time on earth really is limited and you begin to measure how to use what's left of it. It is a time for the sweet savoring of what is dear to you and ignoring of petty differences and irritations. It is a time to LIVE quite intentionally.

As I watch the leaves fall one by one, I am aware that beneath each spot where they were attached to the twig a new bud is beginning to form. Throughout the winter those buds will slowly develop and swell, until they burst open next spring. Where there is now death, there will be new life. Where the last leaf falls, the last bud forms and you might think that it will not emerge at all, but do not give up on it. Life may change with the seasons, getting old and passing away or arriving fresh and new, but it will always be here in one form or another. Rejoice in it!

A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
Ecclesiastes 1:4

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge



  1. What a beautiful post and loving tribute to your father. And love the painting, too. The painting and your reflections go together perfectly. Thanks for sharing them both. :)

  2. YES!! and same here ladybug...
    your paintings are gorgeous...your thoughts...your words...the bare trees, falling leaves, memories & reflections.
    this time of year...when we tend to think about the past. our life. those we've lost. those we've loved. and looking toward the future...
    such a beautiful post. thanks very much!

  3. Heart wrenchingly true. As always, well-written with superb visuals.

    I'm sorry for loss of father years ago and recent loss of your sister/his daughter, who also was my mother. You must have been thinking about losses.

    Thanks for this one.

  4. Performance PI - yes, I think the ending of summer/begiining of fall always makes me a bit sad & reminds me of other losses. But then, as I think through the process, I'm heartened and encouraged by the continuum of life. It DOES go on and we continue to make of it what we can & will. My heart goes out to you, too, and send all my love your way. Thanks for taking the time to read this...