I love the autumn. I always have, and I always will. I love everything about it. I love how the long, hot, summer days transition into the short, cool days of fall. The days are shorter, but so much brighter and more beautiful. It’s almost magical watching the trees slowly change their deep green leaves to vibrant yellow, gold, scarlet and orange. I love watching the pumpkins and corn stalks appear, and seeing the fall festivals in full swing. It’s harvest time. A time to reap the final rewards of the end of a season of growing.
After the heat of summer, fall feels like a glorious relief; a time of renewal, of new beginnings rather than endings. Of looking back on a year gone by as we put on heavier clothes, close our windows against the cold nights, snuggle in and prepare for a long winter even as we watch the beautiful colors unfold in nature’s kaleidoscope. With each leaf that falls, I always have a sense of joy and peace, as that one leaf goes out in a blaze of glory, with grace and dignity. The leaves pile up on the ground for the gentle breezes to lift them into their last graceful dance until they come to their final resting place, and wait for the snow and ice of winter. I love autumn.
Last year I had the opportunity to spend the entire autumn in Western Pennsylvania. I was able to witness the end of another season. I lived in my childhood home, watching the trees turn their brilliant colors, the leaves fall, the acorns litter the ground and the days grow shorter and colder. I watched as the Halloween decorations went up. And came down. I watched as the Thanksgiving decorations went up. And came down. I took long walks in the woods and around the neighborhood where I grew up, marveling at the colors and the slow change of season as late summer turned to one of the most beautiful autumns I have ever experienced. I was there for the season’s end, and felt the bitter cold, snow and ice of winter descend upon us.
Both of my parents died last fall, in the autumn, the season that I love so much. As heartbreaking as it was, the truth is that this was one final gift from my parents to me; that I could enjoy one last autumn with them. I watched as their season ended, as their days became shorter and fewer, and how they came to their final resting place with grace and dignity. Their strong will, spirit and irrepressible humor never faltered during the end of their season. The strength that they displayed in the final months of their lives was very touching, endearing and inspiring. They fought for each other as they battled the end stage of the same disease together.
As their adult child, you think you know your parents and the dynamics of their relationship. However, it was incredibly revealing and humbling to witness the level of intimacy between two people who have spent over 60 years of their lives together. I was deeply moved to witness many private moments between them, experiences that I have shared with no one else, respecting their privacy to the very end. They knew they were both dying, but still shared an appreciation for each other and the life that they built together.
There have been so many gifts and blessings that have come from this final autumn in the lives of my parents and the time that I was blessed to spend with them and my sisters in their last days.The end of a season is no less lovely than it’s the beginning. The sun setting is no less beautiful than the sun rising. In some ways, it is even more beautiful as we celebrate two lives well lived, two people who loved each other unconditionally, and who certainly lived life to the fullest!
Looking back, when I come to the autumn of my life, I can only hope that I can approach it with the same degree of grace, dignity and quiet pride that my parents did. I want to fall like an autumn leaf, in a blaze of color,taking my last graceful dance to my final resting place. I hope to have the peace that comes from knowing that my work here is done, and that I have served my purpose well.
It is also my wish for you.
Be healthy, and live well!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP