As I am writing this, it is the 4th of October and as the leaves slowly begin to change color, painting the landscape in a palette of red and orange and yellow and making the Earth look lit upon with fire, each leaf an ember reaching toward the sky, I want to take a moment to reflect on the year that has passed since last October. Tomorrow will be the 5th of October, and it is a date that will always stand out in my memory. My grandpa died on the 5th of October 2020. Tomorrow, it will have been an entire year since he passed. It was one of those autumn days where the air is slowly beginning to cool in gentle drafts of chill which fade to warmth in the soft rays of the sun. I had a paper due for my sociology class and I remember staring at my computer screen and trying to write but the words were failing me, and I had nothing to say. I stopped and noticed I had a text from my dad. My heart stopped and then started, beating so fast each pulse pounded in my brain. My grandpa had died. I did not know he was sick. No one told me he was sick. He was fine one day, and then he died. The great spell had been broken and the great revelation of life occurred. To have lived, you must die.
I remember past Octobers. It’s the little things that stick out in memory, the things which on their own mean nothing but when spread before me represent everything truly precious. The smell of leaves decomposing on the ground, of cracked walnuts under foot, shells softened in the morning dew. Of sweet corn spread on the ground for the chickens and the little white-tailed deer, and the tablecloth laid upon the aging wood. Every year we carved pumpkins and would roast the seeds, sprinkling them with salt and placing them in bowls upon the kitchen counters. The house would be filled with laughter and the unmistakable buzz of Halloween, of “trick-or-treats” and the ringing and songs of the kitschy decorations near the door.
The autumn wind would rush through the trees and through my hair as we walked throughout the neighborhood, twinkling lights illuminating the road before us, flashlights shining into windows and reflecting our own pale faces. When all the leaves had fallen from the trees, we would rake them up into big, fragrant piles and take turns tumbling in, the crackling under our feet a tremendous sound, and the twigs stuck in our hair a minor inconvenience. Sometimes we would go sledding on the leaves, racing down the hill towards the creek, wind whipping our faces and the trees rushing past us.
The kitchen would be waiting for us, smelling of pumpkin pie and cinnamon and stew. The last of the summer vegetables sat pretty in bowls—turnip, tomatoes and carrots. Conversation would carry on until the hour of twilight, and then the only sounds were that of whispers and creaking floorboards and the crackling of the fire. What a beautiful month October is. How lucky am I to have had so many wonderful Octobers?
As I am finishing writing this, it is the 7th of October. My grandfather died a year and two days ago. Tomorrow, it will be a year since his funeral. I knew October would be different this year. My grandfather was an important figure in my life—he was so wise and headstrong that every word he spoke seemed like truth, to hear him speak felt inherently religious. I loved him as much as I feared him. He told me he would live forever, and I believed him. When he died, it was unexpected and shocking, and it felt like the breaking of a fundamental promise. To console me, people reminded me of his age and how life must end someday, but I wish he would have given me a sign. A single cough or headache. He was never in the hospital. He was never sick. He was here one day and gone the next. That was the greatest tragedy. I had never experienced the loss of a loved one, and his death broke the seal and destroyed the line that I had created between immortality and dying. Death was no longer abstract but as real as the wooden church pews before me.
Octobers are different now. My grief, which I carried closely for a year, has begun to clear. I no longer cry. When I think of him, I remember not the sadness of his death but the 19 years I had with him. Still, Octobers are different. They always will be but that is okay. There will be weeks and days of months and years that will always hold a certain meaning for different people, sunsets and sunrises that bring both laughter and tears but that is okay. I still love October, and I love it even more because I am here today to enjoy it. That is the great lesson—enjoy every moment. Do not wish time away. Do not ask for winter or spring or summer. Enjoy today because every day is precious. Enjoy life for those who no longer can.