As the trees have shed their glory in my corner of the world in suburban New Jersey, I am thinking a lot about the end of things. The end of everything that was once beautiful, full of color, full of life, at its peak. I have been thinking about this especially because of the recent death of my grandmother.

Autumn and winter are a time when we subconsciously carry an end- or death-consciousness. If you are a gardener, or involved in agricultural production, you understand this organically. Death is a precursor to life. Death prepares for a better crop, for stronger roots. I watch as the barren trees allow their branches to remain steady, demonstrating an acceptance of the end of things, their leathered leaves having imparted wisdom of a life well-lived.

I am thinking a lot about the end of things

Already grieving for my grandmother’s passing, I am feeling autumn’s adieu and winter’s insistence in more than just a physical way. True, I have lived through many winters, and hopefully, many await, but I realize that one day a spring will follow a winter, and I won’t be here. I will not experience the excitement of seeing the first green buds of my backyard maple punctuating the blue spring sky after a long winter, and in that same spring I will not feel the fresh breeze on my face, in my hair.

The falling red and orange leaves have helped me internalize this in a way that I had not been able to, until death came too close. The shorter days, the earlier sunsets are reminding me that the sun doesn’t shine forever, that sunset can often sneak up quicker than you think.

My 3-year-old is also helping me internalize this.

She, too, is struggling with the loss of my grandmother, her great-grandmother. She spoke to her almost daily; whenever I called, they talked.

“I didn’t want Bubby to die,” she says, referring to my grandmother, as I put her to bed one night.

“Me, too, but it was her turn,” I try to explain to her, to myself. “She had a very long turn,” I add, referring to her 96 years.

My 3-year-old has heard from her four sisters about Bubby’s remarkable old age. In fact, she has already been waiting for her own February birthday for months now, repeating the order of the seasons like a rhyme, asking: “Is it winter yet?”

Someone must have told her that trees die in the winter, because she comes home one day announcing: “I don’t want winter.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because I don’t want the trees to die.”

I reassuringly say, “They die for the winter, but then they come back to life when it is springtime.”

Uh, oh. I can’t backtrack now.

“And Bubby will also come back in the spring?” I can see the relief in her eyes at finally finding a solution for this horrible truth about Bubby being gone forever.

“The trees will come back, but Bubby will not come back,” I say, wishing I could fill the vacuum of pain left by these words.

I try to explain to her how we feel Bubby in our heart, in our soul, and in this way, she lives on. When we say the things she said or bake the blintzes she made, we feel her. I quickly shuffle through my memory for a distinct “Bubby” moment and try to imitate my grandmother’s Hungarian-accented English, when she would greet us at her apartment door: “Look who came to visit her Bubby!” I raise my eyebrows and open my eyes wide, the way my grandmother would exclaim, standing in her worn housecoat.

“I don’t feel her in my heart,” my 3-year-old announces firmly.

But then I repeat a little Yiddish nursery rhyme my grandmother would sing to my daughter. “Patche patche hantaleh . . .”

A smile is forming on her lips, and she releases her eye contact with me. She lowers her face and folds herself into a fetal ball, murmuring some sort of melancholy sound, and I know that I have touched her with my grandmother’s memory.

There are so many “how to explain” books for children and for parents about death. But when Bubby died, I couldn’t find a book that told me how to grieve for my enormous loss and still be a mother, and still believe in the beauty of the mundane tasks that a mom has to do in order to build her child. I could not find a book on how to answer the questions my little girl was asking, because I had the same questions, and I could not just give her the answers that now seemed formulaic.

I found that all the books were wholly inadequate because grieving is such a personal experience. The death of a loved one is such a “pull you out from under” game-changer. It’s as if everyone starts out with a black-and-white screen and spends a lifetime filling in the color, and then in one swoop, a button is pressed and your screen is devoid of all that hard work—all that color. Death forces us to look at the screen of life more carefully, to really think about whether we want to add a little red to this relationship or some purple to that dream.

And that is why I am experiencing this winter so intimately, ready to think about life from a natural point of view. Nature has served as a sort of metaphor, but nature alone has not been enough. Because I am also aware of the fact that withIs there a larger presence than nature? Does it all end with death? death, the BIG questions loom even larger: are we accompanied? Is there a larger presence than nature? Does it all end with death?

I know that if I trekked the expanse of earth, I would not find Bubby, and still, it feels as though she is right here with me. Sometimes, I joke out loud to her, thinking that death is some great seat in the theater and she can see me from all angles, wherever her seat is. And then I think, if Bubby could be such a powerful, living presence for me, and the trees can be such an anchor in a world that seems to have lost its form, then there must be something more powerful than both. If both the human and the tree have continuity, but are unrelated natural objects, then there must be a Higher Power.

That Higher Power placed us in a beautiful world, setting into motion both nature and humanity, but then left?

Death gets you thinking about where G‑d might still be present in this world: in the living, or in the dead? In the moment of a melody formed, or in the everyday eternity of a Renoir? In the moment we forgive, or in the moment we ignite a friendship? Does G‑d reside in the “why”? Or in the “what to do now” that follows tragedy? Does G‑d linger in the prayerbook? Or out in the sea? Is G‑d each aspect of a noun: a person, place and thing? Or is G‑d only present in the idea of G‑d?

All of these questions feel like the fallen leaves, building themselves up into piles that will be blown into a big expanse.

I know my daughter is brimming with questions, too. They come out of nowhere. “Where does Bubby live now?” She is trying to make sense of the world that she has only known to be good, predictable and consistent.

One night, she says to me, “I don’t want you to get old.”

I know my daughter is brimming with questions

A young age to be grappling with the fact that we cannot control what appears to be in our control. There are moments when I, too, am looking for security, a rail to hold on to. Nature gives me metaphor, and profundity, but it is still a limited, physical response.

I have started to take solace in a different rhythm, a different kind of nature: the cycle of the Torah reading.

I am surprised by the book that has begun to give my questions context.

The Torah has been on my shelf my entire life. I have known its stories since I was young. But it is as if death has allowed me to see the Torah in its skeletal form—a clean canvas—and I am able to begin the stories again. To see value where I had not seen value before, to understand it more fully as a book of our ancestors as much as a guiding compass, to notice the colors in the text that had never been there before. Because now I understand the Torah to be a tree against the endless blue sky of history, whose leaves shed, but whose root system grows deeper and more stable with time.

This eternal tree has allowed me a window to understand mankind’s root system, set forth by the Higher Power. I am rereading the stories without the flourish from the past, but with a sharp eye on the branches of its narrative. Death has given me the lens to read the Torah with the wonder of my 3-year-old, and the hindsight we acquire with loss.

I find great comfort in reading about the first monotheistic and universal families. They are full of life and pain, color and dimension. But unlike the tree, they are human. I can dialogue with them.

They are the same stories my grandmother heard every Shabbat of her 96 years; they are the stories that helped her keep her destroyed family alive. Her father—who, like Abraham, was a religious man who saw beauty in the metaphysical—died and left my grandmother fatherless when she was 9. Her mother, like Sarah, was more particularistic, and always had linens and food set aside for the wandering Jewish poor. My grandmother, sent away from her homeland at 19, to an unknown land—the last salve of the family in 1939—had spent her entire life in Brooklyn recreating her Canaan for me, for her children and grandchildren, so that we would know our inheritance, our monotheism.

I find connection in the fact that I am reading the same stories that she read, that she had learned from her mother. Like the maple in my backyard that will continue to grace the blue sky every spring, my children will continue to keep my Bubby and me alive—long after our leaves have fallen—through our stories.

I am that child who is keeping my grandmother’s stories alive, the biblical stories, the personal stories—they become enmeshed. When I read the Torah, I am reaching back to many ancestors whose names I do not even know, but whose fundamental reason to live I am sustaining. Thousands of years apart, we are in conversation. This gives me great comfort because, as I am living through winter’s consciousness, I realize that even trees eventually die. But these conversations are eternal.

The essence of our lives is the story we create and then narrate, write and rewrite, and eventually entrust for someone else to tell. The stories we tell create a fresh layer for the subtext, the big questions that we are all looking to fashion our stories upon.

When we leave this world, we leave everything we planted in others, and everything that was planted in us. Our actions, our stories, forever re-germinate, spring after spring, child after mother, Genesis after Genesis.