When Bill was in the last autumn of his life, the maple tree in our front yard served as a symbol of all he was losing as we watched Alzheimer's ravage his body and mind. Full and lush in the summer, this tree is a brilliant red and orange before it sheds each and every leaf. It is one of the most beautiful trees in our village. People often knock on my door and ask if they can have some leaves that have fallen beneath it.
Alzheimer's robs us of so much and living with Bill as he went from being brilliant and competent to a man who could barely function taught me the treachery and pain of this disease. As leaves fell from our maple tree, that last autumn, sometimes just one would drift slowly to the ground and other times a breeze would come up and they would fall in clusters seemingly marking Bill's losses. At the same time, on some days one of his skills would disappear while on other days it seemed he had lost several abilities all at once. I knew, that like the leaves, Bill's memories and skills would all be gone someday. Tears usually rolled down my face as I stood watching those leaves fall to the earth.
Today, September 14, as I returned from my morning walk with our Golden Retriever Bentley, I noticed hints of orange, purple and red on my maple tree highlighted by the early morning sun. I knew it would not be long before the thousands of leaves on that beautiful tree would become brilliant with color and then one by one they would fall leaving behind a skeleton standing naked to the coming winter. Each autumn since Bill died, I anticipate the magnificence this tree provides in its colors and the sad reminders of all Bill and I went through during that final autumn of his life. Today looking at this tree is a bittersweet experience...as is most of life.
I never drive Hwy 60 to Sauk City 30 miles away without remembering that last autumn for it was the last time Bill and I took a Sunday drive. Usually on Sundays he and I would take off for the day, often with no plan in mind and end up wherever we ended up...sometimes hiking in a woods and other times watching barges on the Mississippi River and in winters too cold to be outside, we might end up at a book store with a pile of books and coffee. Always these drives involved food and usually a chocolate ice cream cone. Bill loved to eat and never gained a pound. How I envied that. On our last Sunday drive, the sun was hidden by a light fog which allowed the autumn colors to become deep and rich. I will never forget the depth of color or the depth of our pain. After 20 minutes, however, Bill took my hand and said he needed to go back home, that he was too tired to go any further. So as lovely as it is now to drive Hwy 60 in the autumn colors, I still hear Bill telling me how exhausted he is after 20 minutes in the car. Bill, the man who once had endless energy. I let my tears fall and so did he that day. We knew the end was coming. We did not know it would be in just 5 months. We talked briefly about our tears and our pain and when we got home he slept while I wept...alone, as I would find myself doing more and more often in the days ahead
There are few days when a grief trigger does not come along to remind me of the life Bill and I were blessed to have and that is now gone. Today as I see the hints of orange on our maple tree...memory after memory processes through my heart and mind...reminding me of the deep love we share along with the laughter, the joy, the too-many-to-count blessings of our life and love.