I love trees, but never took much notice of them in the winter season. It was always the elation of spotting the first spring buds and the diversity of unfolding green leaves that brought me joy and, in early summer, the blossom of Cherry and Magnolia. Autumn, too, is a favourite season, with its dazzling display of gold, russet, purple, yellow and scarlet. As the trees discard their leaves, I dread the onset of winter and spend much of my time longing for signs of the next season’s golden crocus.
Our family was going through a particularly tough time. We were in the midst of an unsettling house move while, at the same time, helping to care for my husband’s younger brother. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer, which he endured for almost a year before it became too aggressive for anything more to be done for him. It was devastating to witness Leigh’s deterioration. He had always been full of energy and forever up to mischief. He was a lovable rogue. As the end approached we sat with him, his physically wasted body wrapped in a soft, peach-coloured comfort blanket. Leigh lost control of all of his bodily functions except the ability to smile, and we will never forget his cheeky grin which was present right up until he lost consciousness.
Following Leigh’s death, I became increasingly depressed and, what was worse, I felt unable to fully support my husband. This made me angry with myself. On the nights when I couldn’t sleep, I would stand at the back door and stare blankly at the trees at the bottom of our garden. As I stared, my exhausted mind numb and empty, I began to notice how beautiful they were. Though dark, bare and skeletal, the naked branches were like black threads embroidered on the winter sky. Sometimes the sky was cloudy but, often, as is found on cold, winter nights, there would be a clearly visible moon surrounded by a multitude of brightly shining stars. This served to make the sight of the stark trees even more impressive. I began to look forward to those nocturnal moments of peace and wonder, and they gave me the strength to, somehow, participate in the shared grief of our family.
What a beautiful summer we had here in the uk with, what seemed like, endless days of sunshine – unusual for our little corner of the world! My husband, myself and our daughter, who still lives at home, spent lots of time just sitting in the garden enjoying each other’s company. Discussions would sometimes be serious, such as the state of mental health welfare in the uk – a subject close to our hearts, but often our banter would be light-hearted like how the rose we had planted for Leigh turned out to be ruby-coloured, despite there being a picture of an orange rose on the packaging. We laughed at that, imagining it was Leigh’s sense of humour at play. We had initially chosen an orange rose as we felt that was the colour that suited his personality. As it happened, whoever had caused the mistake in the packaging, blessed us … it was the most beautiful rose we had ever seen. Life became more settled for us and I enjoyed those pleasant interludes, sitting in the garden amidst the summer blooms with the trees towering in the background, displaying foliage of all shapes and shades of green. We were drawn together as a family and supported each other through our grief.
Now and then, though, I wondered how I would feel after the summer leaves turned to rustic autumn shades and, finally, ended up decaying on the lawn, leaving the trees in a naked state once again. Would I forget how their beauty had helped me through my time of sorrow? Would I, once again, become indifferent to them and only long for the arrival of spring?
We’re well into winter as I write this and I am still able to be overcome by the beauty of the trees. I had never taken the time during winters to notice how tall and graceful they stand and that, by shedding their leaves, how they reveal their full glory. I thank God for giving me those special moments of appreciation and for the knowledge that he is always there.