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Is October the Cruelest Month?

If “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” then why do I feel so down?

October never used to be a complicated month for me. In fact, until recently, I would have rated it my favorite month of all the twelve.

What’s not to love about October? The celebrated colors are, in a word, glorious. And when it’s not raining, the days are perfect: cool crisp mornings unfold into soft golden afternoons. And once the sun dips low in the sky, it’s delightfully cool yet again. There are pumpkins and mums in autumnal shades adorning doorsteps, freshly picked apples in fruit bowls, and gorgeous harvest moons gracing the night sky with a luminous glow.

With all this resplendent beauty, then, why do I feel so emotionally fraught?

Perhaps I am beginning to understand that, even though October is a month filled with good things and stunning scenery, it is also one of the last mild months of the year. And as the red, yellow, and orange leaves fall to the ground, the mercury will continue to fall as well. The sun will make its descent earlier each evening and soon enough we’ll be scraping ice off the car and shoveling snow into huge white piles.

Last October in this space, I wrote a column where I noted that my mother felt melancholy in October because, for her, the tenth month of the year was a harbinger of the harsh winter months which are heading our way. The apples, pumpkins, and foliage could not assuage the ominous feelings that invaded her this time of year. Simply put, she was sad in October because it marked the demise of mild weather. Its presence meant that winter, with its short frigid days and long dark nights, would soon be arriving and would likely hang around for much too long.

When I wrote that column I made a point to say that while I understood my mom’s sadness, I did not share it. The beauty offered by October served as balm for what was coming next. I cherished the gifts of this month and did not conflate autumnal offerings with the onset of winter. 

Yet a mere year later, here I sit feeling glum, and on this, an amazing October afternoon. From the windows in my kitchen, I see leaves dancing off trees as they float aimlessly to the ground below. The sky is Cerulean blue and there’s a cool breeze with sweet warm wisps in it.

Why should this day mark anything but loveliness? Why should it be confused with the coming of winter?  Maybe this is true: I am not sad because winter is around the corner; maybe I am sad because in addition to apples, leaves, pumpkins, and Halloween, October reminds me of my mom. 

Neither the month of her birth, nor the month of her death, and yet I remain sad. Sad I guess, because, no matter how many Octobers pass, I will always yearn to talk with her, to be with her, to hear her laugh just one more time – before the long dark winter arrives.

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