Many widows struggle through depression and sadness at an increased level during the fall and even through the long winter. A great way to counter this battle is to delve into deeper communion with God and shift your mindset from a focus on the death that can be highlighted so profusely at this time, and instead embrace an attitude of gratitude as the season of Thanksgiving draws near. This can also be a time to allow yourself to retreat from the chaos of activities and spend time reflecting on what you want your future to be and allow yourself to get the rest you need so you will be energized and prepared to embrace that future with strength and passion.
As the sights and colors of fall begin their magical dance of transition, I began to sense the parallels of this season to the journey on the path of a widow. Today is four years my beloved husband has been living in Heaven. My journey continues.
The melancholy in my soul is mirrored in this season where so much change and settling of accounts occurs as the harvests are reaped, fields are tilled under, and the deciduous trees declare farewell to their leaves in a resplendent array of color before releasing them forever to the soil from which they came. The scene before us shifts from abundant harvests reaching maturity to desolate fields of exposed earth preparing for harsh temperatures and long nights. Lush green trees, some with brightly colored fruits that are eagerly gathered, progress through a cycle of self preservation by adjusting the diet they allow to get to the leaves so they change color and eventually slip to the ground leaving what appears to be only barren and lifeless branches.
In Autumn, things are dying. The days are getting shorter. The temperatures are getting colder. Even if the homegoing of your husband didn’t occur in the fall, this season tends to prey on your senses because the surroundings can evoke emotions of sadness and grief. Fall is nature’s season of death. It mimics our loss as we see the abundance of summer turn into the browning and falling of the leaves, the exposed earth in the fields, and the stark bare branches reaching out, but empty.
I remember driving from the first memorial service of my husband to Michigan where I planned to spend a few days with my parents. The winding lonely roads were lined on both sides with thick forests of trees, mostly desolate of leaves. It made it possible to see far deeper within than is possible in the summer. At one point I pulled off to the side of the road to just take it in. My heart was so broken, and the tears began to run down my face. I could see abandoned bird nests, random stubborn leaves hanging on for dear life, and the dingy gray sky somehow intensifying the starkness of the large trunks and crooked tangly branches. There were some evergreens sprinkled in that added some much needed color. The scene seemed to amplify my feeling of emptiness and being alone. Even though there were so many trees, somehow, each one seemed to stand alone with nothing to give.
I was curious to learn why the leaves on deciduous plants change color in this season and then die and fall to the ground. God shows off His love of creation by separating the leaves from the trees in a highly controlled process. In response to the shortening days and cooler temperatures, hormones within the plant are activated to begin the abscission process. Chlorophyll gives leaves their basic green color and is essential because it enables a chemical reaction called photosynthesis. This enables plants to convert sunlight to manufacture sugars for food. Chlorophyll production stops during the fall and the pigment starts to degrade. This allows the gorgeous reds and yellows that were masked by green to be revealed. The vessels that nourish the leaf and distribute sugars to the rest of the plant are then closed off. A layer of cells, known as the abscission layer, begins to grow between the leaf stalk and the twig holding it. This new layer of cells slowly begins to cut the leaf from the plant without leaving an open wound. The tree moves into a dormant state as the leaves fall so it can save its energy for the great bud burst of spring.
The cycle of leaf dropping in autumn is a form of self-protection. Deciduous vegetation is inclined to have thin leaves with a watery sap that freezes easily, making them vulnerable to cold temperatures. Tender leaf tissue would freeze in winter, so these trees dispose of their leaves to seal off the threat and ensure the plant’s continued survival. The surface area of all those leaves would also pose a threat to the plant’s physical integrity. Winter winds could cause major breakage if it had access to the broad leaves, as could the weight of snow collecting on them. In God’s perfect plan of the cycles of life, by the end of summer we find many leaves are insect-eaten, diseased, or otherwise damaged as well. The process of dropping them gives the plant a fresh start in the spring, and the nutrients from the decaying leaves are recycled to help grow the next leafy generation.
Autumn can truly evoke and enhance the sense of loss we feel now that we are widows. Especially in the early days and months of our loss, but even in repeating cycles as time moves forward, we too feel like everything around us is changing, decaying and dying. We might feel like a tree that is losing its leaves. We might feel like the nutrients we need are being siphoned off to starve our ability to function the way we used to. We don’t look the same in the mirror. Our environment becomes so unfamiliar… and perhaps even uninviting. The longer nights and the colder temperatures add a new depth to our pain of loneliness for our beloved husband.
What if we could challenge those negative feelings and energies and add a dose of hope to our thinking? This beautiful plan of regeneration that occurs beginning in the fall and through the sometimes long and harsh season of winter is yet another demonstration of God’s redemption plan for us as widows.
As for us, we have all of these great witnesses who encircle us like clouds. So we must let go of every wound that pierced us and the sin we so easily fall into. Then we will be able to run life’s marathon race with passion and determination, for the path has been already marked out before us. We look away from the natural realm and we focus our attention and expectation onto Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection. His example is this: Because His heart was focused on the joy of knowing you would be His, He endured the agony of the cross and conquered its humiliation, and now sits exalted at the right hand of the throne of God! So consider carefully how Jesus faced such intense opposition from sinners who opposed their own souls, so you won’t become worn down and cave in under life’s pressures.
Hebrews 12: 1-3 TPT
In God’s plan He created a season of letting go of the things that so heavily encumber us, like the damaged, diseased and pest assaulted leaves that were only holding the tree back from a bountiful and enriched life. In His perfect plan, even though we may not be able to see it, He protects our heart and soul with great care, just as He uses the abscission layer in trees and plants to gently release dead leaves without leaving an open wound. Our wounds from the trauma of losing our husband, and likely from other hurts we encounter as we work to define and create a life apart from him going forward are under God’s watchful eye as He seeks to heal and restore us so we can venture forward.
Just as He invites us to share a Sabbath rest with Him one day a week, He gives the trees a season of rest to be rejuvenated to produce good things. He allows them to go into retreat from their labor and enjoy an interval of relaxation so they can be revitalized. We also need periods of time to set apart and allow ourselves to be strengthened and get our minds and hearts clear of the clutter that tends to gather.
What struck me in the definition of deciduous, as noted above, is that it means transitory and not permanent. Wow, that’s a twist I didn’t expect. Realizing we are in a transition is a much more positive approach to this season. Transitions imply we can keep the good things and let go of the bad. Transition means we are still moving and can change direction if we want to. We are not stuck forever in a place we really don’t want to be.
My heart hurts a lot today as I remember my dear husband. I find it very hard to believe it has already been four years. There are many circumstances I’m dealing with that make this time even more difficult. In spite of all the negatives I could choose to dwell on and allow to hinder my healing, I choose instead with my will to draw ever closer to God. I choose to trust Him to keep right on taking care of my needs and wants. I choose to love Him back as much as I humanly can. I choose to acknowledge the miracles of mercy He keeps bestowing so I can keep pressing forward. I choose to count my blessings and be thankful for the things God has already done and the people I have in my life to help me.
Death is an inevitable end for all of us just as it is for much of God’s creation. When we ask for forgiveness for our sins and give our hearts to the Lord, and choose to let God direct our life, then death becomes a doorway to our eternal life where death is defeated, and every tear is wiped away. I have the peace I will see my beloved husband again when I get to Heaven. Being human I still miss his physical presence right here. I miss talking to him, and praying with him. I miss that close companionship we shared. God understands that. He sympathizes with our pain. He promises to never leave us or forsake us. We may be physically alone, but we have God to answer our prayers and Holy Spirit to help guide us and comfort us. I know I share this often, but it is my favorite, and applies to this journey as a widow so immensely.
This is God’s Word on the subject: … I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on Me, when you come and pray to Me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for Me, you’ll find Me. Jeremiah 29: 11-14
May you hear God’s heart today and let Him minister His love to your heart, especially if you are really struggling right now. He loves you so much. He has a wonderful future He wants to lead you to where He can bless you. He hears every prayer, and He counts every tear. The future He has for you is filled with joy and goodness. Reach for that today. Share your heart with Him and trust Him to carry you safely there. Peace be with you.