Packed up, but still

Trimpley Resevoir, Bewdley, United Kingdom
Photo by Sugden Guy sugden via Unsplash

“Now the long freight of autumn goes smoking out of the land.
My possibles are all packed up, but still I do not leave…”   Thomas McGrath

Many years ago, when the movie Dances with Wolves came out, there was a sort of fad of people thinking up American Indian names for themselves that were descriptions of their own personality, appearance or character. I remember thinking that the name I would choose for myself was “one who stays.” There were many reasons for this choice at the time, few of which are relevant now, but I could hardly have known how prophetic my pretend name was.

Sometimes I think growing older is primarily an exercise in being left behind. Grandparents, parents, siblings and spouses are lost to death. Children and grandchildren grow up and grow away, too busy with their own lives to stay in regular touch. Friends leave, too, sometimes by choice, and this can be one of the cruelest losses because there is no forced parting to explain the departure. It feels like an unnecessary added pain.

Still, I think there can be a kind of nobility in remaining, sorting through the pieces others have left behind and sweeping their dust and clearing their rooms. Someone has to do it, and better a friend or loved one, however forlorn, than an absolute stranger.

We spend painful hours culling, letting go of trinkets and mementos that represent one expired dream after another, photographs of smiling faces, and letters and cards full of earnest emotion long since vanished. What we choose to keep we pack up, along with most of what we once thought possible in our lives. We gaze out the window at the leaves beginning to fall, grateful for the cooling sympathy of autumnal decay. And we stay.


  1. kjyaccino

    Thank you, Julia, for being here in a dark night.

    • Thank you, Kathy. I never really know who is reading the blog except for comments or “likes,” and I’m often surprised to find out who has been here.

  2. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. ☕️ What a timely post this morning as our circumstances in recent days have been choices of staying or departing our coastal home and choosing valuables that can’t be replaced to carry to safety. This morning finds river water flowing through Ashley’s home but she has strength beyond words. Maybe that, too, is youth and passed on, as I recall the girls looking to us for guidance in tough times. Your words are touching and I’m thankful for every season we’ve shared and look forward to many Fall Verandah days. That virtual tea you had waiting for me was fantastic! Love y’all dearly! ♥️🙏🏻 She

    • Oh, poor Ashley! I’m glad she has her parents’ strength! I am so sorry for all you have been through recently. How difficult (and eye-opening) it must be, to have to choose what to take along on an evacuation order. Hope the “tin condo” was a comfort…seems as if it would be a much friendlier place to be than a hotel, especially in circumstances such as yours. The kettle is always on for you, my friend. Thank you for coming into my life and STAYING! ❤

  3. Chris

    Julia, beautifully written. It is, after all, the cycle of life, in this life. The nobility I see is the perseverance to remain steadfast, and convicted to one’s own journey. When one door closes, another possibility or opportunity opens. And remember, things in this life are temporary. Enjoy the present; don’t worry about tomorrow. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jer. 29:11). Continue to be the ‘one who stays’! Have a wonderful week! 😊

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Chris. The verse you quoted was perhaps Jeff’s favorite over the many years I was blessed to live with him. Looking back, it feels almost cruel until I realize that we simply have a limited view of what God’s plans for us may be, and that the best of them are not things we can understand with an earthly mind. I am surviving by focusing on the present, even if only to sigh with immense relief when a particularly difficult day is over. I will continue to stay for as much time as God grants me. Thanks for being here. I wish you a great week too!

  4. I send you Love and Light today and always!🌟💖🌟

    • Thank you, Cherie! It helps more than you know. You and Ron are ever in my prayers. ❤

  5. Carolyn

    Still here for you. I will try and send you a message this week. I also need your new address. Love and hugs.

    • Thank you Carolyn. I’m so sorry I STILL haven’t sent you my new address. I printed up some cards to send to friends, but still haven’t gotten around to sending yet. I’ll try to post one to you today. Meanwhile thanks for the love and hugs. Sending you the same, from Matt and me! ❤ ❤ ❤

  6. Good morning, Julia!
    Is that what it is? Why I love autumn so much? The “cooling sympathy of autumnal decay?” I know it leaves me a little melancholy, but perhaps the gift of the beautiful leaves so recently observed and fresh in my mind make it more bearable. It’s also a comfort to know that we all go through the seasons. Together, or together but not together. Yes, with friends or family is best. Still, we have this in common even with an absolute stranger, which makes the stranger less strange, a bit.
    Love and peace to you!
    Prayers for your home and family, even when they are not near.

    • Good morning, Susan! Yes, I think that may be it. Perhaps the reasons we love autumn will change and age along with us, but as the poet said so long ago, “there is something in the autumn that is native to my blood.” Thanks so much for the prayers. I hope that your Minnesota autumn (that is where you are right now? I can’t keep up!) is full of color and comfort for you.

      • We are expecting a hard freeze tonight, already, here (yes, in Minnesota)! This means that everything has to be harvested this afternoon. And so, in short order, summer here will literally be “packed up,” with plum jam, grape jelly, pickled peppers, dried chamomile, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, and rosemary, poblano peppers, and one extremely small cantaloupe. (Maybe I will give this cantaloupe away, pretending that I’m on to a new concept in mini-fruit! )

        • Wow, sounds like you were in for some “pickin’ and packin'” — hope it went well. Take a photo of the mini cantaloupe (maybe put a quarter beside it as a size indicator) and auction it off to the highest bidder. You never know, some botanist might be interested. 😀 Seriously, stay warm. I wish you a return of warm weather before the cold sets in to stay.

  7. Harry Sims

    Oh so forlorn.

    I sometimes wonder how God feels?


    • I do too. I guess the closest we can come is reading about how Jesus felt when his friends deserted him, or when he felt forsaken by God just before he died.

  8. Ah, sorting and discarding – something I find extremely difficult, but which I am practising at the moment. The trouble with staying put is that I tend to accumulate stuff around me and then it weighs me down… I’m currently trying to lighten my burden despite not planning to go anywhere for more than a few days.

    • Hi Jan, it’s lovely to hear from you. Yes, it always amazes me how easily stuff accumulates, even as we are jettisoning cargo left and right. It’s a constant battle, if only for the pesky paperwork that never seems to stop. I too find it difficult– sometimes because it’s depressing, others times (such as the paperwork) because it’s boring. But the very nature of sorting through personal belongings is that it can’t really be delegated. So I try to take it in relatively small segments of time, and as long as I keep to it on a daily basis, I can start to see some progress. I hope you are doing well! Thanks again for checking in.

  9. MaryAnn

    “One who stays” adds much to my spirit KNOWING you are my forever friend! Praising our Lord that you stay!!!
    Dances With Wolves is my all time favorite movie. Probably because
    I am a cowgirl at heart & grew up part Cherokee. I was not aware of the
    pretend naming at that time. I’ll think on it. FUN!
    Going thru the possessions of a loved one is poignant.
    Senting much love! I feel joyful & blessed knowing Matt & you continue to
    bring me before our Father’s Throne!

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. Maybe my name for you is “Smiles with her heart.” ❤ Love you!

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        Thank you! My new moniker is “Smiles with her heart”! Wow! You are my best cheerleader!

        • I could come up with others, too. “Shines the light” and “grateful soul” are just a couple. As Misifusa likes to say, “Shine on!”

  10. Judy from Pennsylvania

    You have captured much of what I too am feeling about this autumn season. While most of my prior decades have been spent accumulating things, experiences, and especially family and friends, I now find that the spiritual lesson is centered on graciously ‘letting go’. Some things weren’t meant to be forever, they were just treasures to be held and remembered, to be learned from.

    It seems that the season of accumulation is followed by the season of gradual return to simplicity, of centering. Our life energy is still vibrantly strong but less scattered. More emphasis on the interior, less on the leaves. Yet the season of new leaves, new flowering buds is coming.

    In the meantime, I continue to clean out closets and drawers and expectations. I was in a store yesterday, and the display of springtime bulbs caught my eye. I think I must plant some daffodils. I do so much love daffodils in the springtime.

    Please send your new address. And consider planting a daffodil there for me!

    • Judy, I love your description of this stage of life. I especially grabbed onto your phrase “still vibrantly strong but less scattered” as I’m feeling “increasingly weak and more scatterbrained than ever.” 😀 Maybe that will improve with time. I am cutting myself some slack due to all the huge life changes, of which Jeff’s death was the biggest and most consequential, but one among many others. I too have been eyeing the springtime bulbs, as I do every year. Daffodils have long been my favorite flowers so I will try to plant some just for you– as soon as I get my landscape plans figured out! Is your address still the same as it was in 2013? I still have it from when I had the first anniversary blog party. What fun that was. I’ll be happy to send you my new address.

      • Judy from Pennsylvania

        Yes, we’re still at the same address. I loved the tea that I ‘won’ at your blog party. That was fun!

        • Judy, I sent you a card yesterday. Thanks!

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