A Beautiful Death

The other day Nana and I bundled up the whole crew and set out for an afternoon walk through the neighborhood. As we strolled along, we began to coax Mary Grace about the spectrum of colors to be found in the sloughing crowns of Autumn. “Look at THIS one!” “What does THIS one look like?” “Ooh, look at THAT yellow one!” She was quickly enthralled by it. Discontent with merely admiring the foliage, she began to search for leaves of all different colors and shapes, assembling a collection that began to pile up on her slumbering brother.

The crew ready for a stroll

The crew ready for a stroll

We pile our leaf collection on a sleeping Rocky

We pile our leaf collection on a sleeping Rocky

It really was spectacular. Aubergine and amethyst; magenta and indigo; goldenrod and hazel; even the verdant green of revolutionaries still clinging to summer’s promise. We all got into the act, scouring the landscape for new tones and painstakingly selecting each contribution for our cache. When we got home, MG and I sat up at the bar and sorted our Fallen soldiers into rank and file, like unto like. Purples go here. Reds go there. We tinkered with the progression from dark to light, demonstrating to her how purple bleeds out its blue to yield red- how red then passes away, leaving vestiges of itself in orange along the way to yellow. Her eyes danced as the discards from Maple and Magnolia blossomed one last time into an autumnal kaleidoscope. In the middle of it all, a thought began to tease the back of my mind:

“These are the colors of their dying.”

As the winter draws near, the long darkness takes its toll on the leaves. The sunlight necessary for their vitality is curtailed and the photosynthetic effect slows to a crawl. Capillaries contract in the growing cold, while the lifeblood of the leaf stalls sluggishly in its veins. So, moribund and glorious, they tinge the sky with their passing…

The blue-black is bruising,
The mustard is jaundice,
The crimson of bloodshed,
The unworldly purple of a choke,
Trauma in tangerine,

They die with resplendence. Unwittingly, we had crafted a cardboard mausoleum for Mother Nature.

leaves-3 leaves-4

Our children are as the leaves. They flourish and fade in season. Newborn. Infant. Toddler. Pre-K . Tween. Teen. And all the stages in between. Their innocence. Their dependence. Their ignorance. Their affection. It all burns bright and gives way to newness. We see them anew, lamenting the loss of a season gone by yet enamored by the brilliance of their passage.

Just as Mary Grace paused at the crosswalk as we collected leaves and proceeded to pass over unaccompanied. She was mighty proud. A part of me died in that moment. And, although she doesn’t know it, a part of her fell to the ground as well. A shade of her that will never turn again…

And, we are all as the children. We begin to die on the day of our birth, the machinations whirring into primacy then steadily descending into decline.

We crescendo with all the vibrance of sunburst and sage, only then to need again the sleep of winter’s grey relief. Each choice. Every season. We die with them all.

The philosophers of old used to talk of the “beautiful death”. La Bella Morte. Freedom, dignity, courage, and resolve were the hallmarks of this way. Interestingly, they are also the defining features of a beautiful Life. They are inextricably intertwined.

We are all dying. Live colorfully.

'A Beautiful Death' have 15 comments

  1. October 30, 2014 @ 1:39 PM Melissa

    This is so beautifully expressed….very enjoyable- love the pics as always


    • November 20, 2014 @ 12:39 AM Bret Spears

      Thanks, Missy! Sorry it has taken so long to get back. I hope you and yours are doing well. I truly appreciate your reading and all the kind words.


  2. October 30, 2014 @ 8:28 PM Eric Hyde

    Dude, love the leaf collection idea. My two year olds loooove leafs. We’re doing this next week!


  3. October 30, 2014 @ 8:31 PM Eric Hyde

    Your imagery of death at the conclusion of the article is incredible. Death is a topic I’ve been thinking on and writing on for awhile now and your treatment of it is some of the best, most poetic, I’ve encountered.


    • November 7, 2014 @ 6:46 PM Nikki

      Poetic indeed. You are a very talented writer, Bret. Love your beautiful mind. xo


      • November 20, 2014 @ 12:48 AM Bret Spears

        You are too kind, Nikki. I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the article. As always, thanks for the love and kindness.


    • November 20, 2014 @ 12:41 AM Bret Spears

      So glad to have you as a reader and commenter, Eric. Many, many thanks for the encouragement.


  4. October 31, 2014 @ 12:01 AM Jannette

    Wow! This was such a joy to read. Loved the pictures and the timely autumns realities….so true. I love that you remind us to stop and savor the moments.


    • November 20, 2014 @ 12:43 AM Bret Spears

      … and thank you for taking a walk with us, Nana!


  5. October 31, 2014 @ 4:26 AM Monica

    Beautiful. I needed this today.


    • November 20, 2014 @ 12:47 AM Bret Spears

      Thanks, Monica. That makes me smile.


  6. November 13, 2014 @ 8:10 PM Isaiah

    my favorite so far, enjoyed!


  7. November 3, 2015 @ 4:06 PM Lisa

    As the parent of 4 boys,(widowed after 25 1/2 yrs in 2006) my eldest Jared will be forever only 19 y.o. in our memory while sometimes it is so very, excruciating painful to watch his younger siblings continue to grow, they are my pride & joy: Jonas 30, Jeramy 27, & Joel who was only 10 when he lost his hero. The blessing in my loss is Jared’s son Jared now 13 & 1/2 even though his mother currently refuses to let me see him, he is part of my son that kept me sane in 2001 & now. It has to be enough. Jonas has been single dad for Josef-12 y.o since they were 22 & 4. Jeramy & wife Amanda with 2 beautiful girls, Brandy almost 10, Hayden Michelle just 8 & ‘Da Bubs’ =Jacob 2y. 9m old. The newest light in my life belongs to soon to be 25 yrs Joel & Maranda, Mila Renee came to us this June. I love your writing, I even managed not to sob. I’ve learned love is what’s important, & amazed at my ability to make it through the process of loss. I keep my faith in heaven having been through hell. Thank you for reminding me of the some of best times we shared as family with images jumping into piles of leaves, learning about trees, color & always the love we had for each other. It’s all about the love, it never ends.


    • November 17, 2015 @ 12:34 PM Bret Spears

      Lisa, I cannot thank you enough for opening up about your story. I am so touched by the sorrow you have borne, but also the deep joy and hopefulness you have expressed here. I am truly grateful you were able to find meaning in the article. Grace and peace to you.


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