Raking Leaves

Life in Michigan comes complete with lots of beautiful trees that spring to life in the spring, providing vibrant green foliage and shade during the summer, and spectacular fall colors in the brisk air of autumn. Then, the leaves all fall off the trees and create a huge amount of work for those of us who live amongst the trees. I’m not complaining, much. This weekend I went out for the second time of the season to battle “Leaf-ageddon.” I have a good system that works for me. I use a blower to corral the edges and move large piles, finally using my lawn tractor to mulch and blow the leaves into the woods. Occasionally I need to use the sweeper to pick leaves up in the front yard, or convert the blower to a mulching vacuum to get leaves out of flower beds, but after 3 years at our current home, I have a pretty good system down.


           As I was working yesterday the familiar smell of leaves brought back memories from childhood of raking with my dad, and climbing through piles of wet leaves. That smell of decaying leaves is so incredibly distinct, and though not exactly pleasant, it evokes such wonderful memories of being young. I suppose it was inevitable that I started thinking about the boy. David died 5 years ago at the age of ten. If he were still here, I’m sure I would have made him get out there with me yesterday and do some of the more physical work of leaf removal. After all, my father had used my brothers and I to help with the yard work when we got old enough to help out. I’m sure there would have been some resistance, as any 15 year old should provide, but I know we had a good relationship and he would have been out there helping me. We had shared many father/son moments during his short life here on earth, but there were so many things, like how to handle leaves, I still had left to teach him. The ironic thing is, the family might not even be in Michigan if David had not died. We might very well still be in southern California. The whole reason we now live in this land of four seasons is because the family decided we needed a family adventure and a change of scenery a few years after David died. We needed to reboot and get a fresh start. So there I was, herding leaves, in a place he might never have lived, wishing he were here with me. I wished I could share with him the strategy we would employ, imparting my years of learned knowledge and listening to him as he offered up what would surely be a better way to do things. He was always thinking, always looking for the best way to do things. I’m sure he would have helped me perfect my leaf elimination process. We would have laughed, and argued, and thrown leaves at each other, and most assuredly sworn at the wind as it worked against our ingenious plans.

            It’s not really all that surprising that he came to mind. I think of him all the time. Every hour of every day he comes to mind, and I wonder how life would be different if he were here. I don’t dwell on it, and unlike the early years after his death, it doesn’t cripple me or drive me to tears as often, but the thoughts are always there. It’s just like when I’m watching football. David loved football. He was taken from us on the football field. I have never watched the game the same way since. But I still watch, because I love the game, and he loved it. But every time I see a hard hit or something physical, David’s name runs through my mind. I enjoy it, but it’s not the same.

            Of course it’s not only football; NOTHING is the same. It doesn’t have to be anything even remotely connected to David, his name surfaces constantly anyway. Perhaps the most difficult thing for people who have not suffered the loss of a child to understand is that the pain of the loss, and the longing to see and hold your child again, never goes away. If we are lucky, we find a way to put the pieces of our shattered lives back together enough to move forward, but there is no such thing as closure. The wound will always be there, and every single hour of every day, I will think of him. All the “could have been”s will remain there in the atmosphere, waiting for me to make the connection, and it never fails. It matters not if you are the type who openly shares your loss, or the kind that holds it close and private; the ache will always be there. Even when raking leaves.

            As I finished the day’s battle against the fallen leaves, I turned around and admired my handiwork. The yard looked good. The lawn was green and my yard appeared more cared for than my neighbors’. I smiled. I believe I even muttered to myself, “Nice job pal, we did good.” Yes, that’s right, I talk to David sometimes like he is still here, too. I could almost hear him be a smart ass and point out that the area of the yard that I had cleared first was already starting fill with more leaves. The wind and nature was not done with the trees yet. I would be out here again next weekend, clearing away more leaves. I would think of him again. The leaves were not done with my yard, just as grief is not done with me. And though as winter comes, the leaves may stop, the grief never does. It changes as the demands of the season do, from leaves, to snow, to planting, to mowing the lawn, but it never goes away. It will be with me forever. It has become a part of me. Everything that happens in our lives changes us. The big things that happen in our lives change us in a big way. It’s the cycle of life and death. The hard part is finding a way to move forward, and keep clearing the leaves, without being buried under a pile too big to emerge from.

            Be well. Hold onto the love. After the leaves come the holidays, and grief lives there, too. Peace, Light, and Laughter to all.


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About the Author
Bart Sumner's book, HEALING IMPROV: A JOURNEY THOUGH GRIEF TO LAUGHTER is available in the Grief Toolbox Marketplace. He is the founder & President of HEALING IMPROV, a nonprofit charity in Grand Rapids, Michigan that provides no cost Comedy Improv Grief Workshops to people struggling with finding the road forward. He lost his 10 y/o son David in 2009 to a sudden accident. He is an actor and writer who writes the blog MY STORIES FROM THE GRIEF JOURNEY at the website for Healing-Improv.org
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