Autumn Leaves


In some of my previous articles, I mentioned how  I was a member of some cover bands during my teenage years.  It was the sixties.  Growing up in Nashville, the influence of country music surrounded me, yet it did not interest me.  I was a big Beach Boys and Beatles fan (among others).  Yet, to the surprise of my fellow bandsmen, I had a keen appreciation for music outside country and rock and roll.  The Letterman was a favorite group of mine then, along with others who were famous before my day, such as Frank Sinatra.

I got that appreciation from my father, a big Sinatra fan, especially the songs he recorded in the sixties.  His favorite was “My Way.”  He loved that song so much that he made my sister and me promise to play it at his funeral.  At first, I was against it, but my sister insisted.  I’m glad she did!  There were a lot of people who attended his funeral, and we played “My Way” over the PA system at the conclusion of the service.  The music was supposed to play while the attendees filed out of the chapel, but most stayed to the song’s end.  They appeared mesmerized by the association of that great song to my beloved father’s life.

As we were greeting everyone on their way out, many said it was the best funeral they had ever attended.  They loved my dad, and that song just fit him perfectly!

My favorite Sinatra song was “It Was a Very Good Year.” If you remember, the words take us through the seasons of a man’s life—at 17, 21, 35, and “in the autumn of the year.” That verse goes:

“And now the days are short.  I’m in the autumn of the year.  And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs.  From the brim to the dregs.  It poured sweet and clear.  It was a very good year.”

That song gets to me, still.  I liked it “when I was 17” and, especially now.  I could intuitively see to the end of my life back then, and it resonated with me.  I’ve lived 72 years.  I’m now in the autumn of the year, drinking vintage wine from fine old kegs… remembering.

My wife, Jan, and I especially liked the fall.  We took many drives through fall foliage, often stopping in the Missouri Wine Country at the Montelle Winery, sitting out on their huge deck overlooking a valley full of vineyards and drinking wine.  We spent even more time sitting on our deck watching eight acres of hardwood trees turning color behind our house, enjoying the crisp air, and thanking God for his many blessings.  As another song from the era said, “We had a love, a love you don’t find every day.” We still do.

During the last two years of her life, her caregivers and I would place her in her wheelchair and let her sit out on the deck with me.  Everything was as pretty as before, but it was not the same.  We couldn’t talk about the experience anymore due to her strokes.  But I loved sitting there with her… remembering.  I counted my blessings so that she could still sit by my side.  I didn’t know how much longer we would be able to do this.  We made it through two autumn seasons on our deck.

She died in August 2021.  Fall came quickly after that.  Sitting on the deck alone last year was very tough on me.  I missed her terribly.  I still do.  This year it has been easier for me to sit there alone.  I feel her presence.  I hear her voice.  I savor the many ways she reaches out to me from the “Other Side,” reassuring me of her eternal love.  I’m noticing that while my grief will endure, life is steadily filling in around it.  I will survive… and thrive.  She wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m filling my days with service to other widowers through two hospices for which I volunteer.  I’m building my new tribe and social life.  I’m working as an executive coach again.  But I know I’m now in the autumn of the year.  There is no turning back.  My best days are behind me.

But I will continue to sit out on my deck from time to time, alone, drinking vintage wine from fine old kegs… and remembering.

Michael Burroughs is the author of Moving Mountains: Facing Strokes with Faith and Hope (Amazon).  He lives in St Louis, Missouri.

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