Wednesday, December 27, 2006

23. The Ghosts of Christmas Past

For Mario and I, Christmas sort of died along with our great loves.

Gregory and I used to take Helena out to a Christmas tree farm to pick out a tree.

Gregory didn’t participate in the decorating, but Helena and I would hang upon the boughs first lights, then the ornaments and all the memories locked inside them: A wooden lighthouse from a New England friend. A tiny Noah’s ark leftover from my marriage to Helena’s dad. A miniature sleigh full of miniature foodstuffs from a foodie at work. A pine cone that Helena had decorated with ribbons and spangles.

For the most part, these have sat, undisturbed, in a box year after year since Gregory died. It wasn’t that Helena and I made less out of Christmas. It’s just that it didn’t feel the same. We didn’t want to go Christmas tree hunting by ourselves, and it wasn’t as much fun to hang the stockings with everyone’s names, including the cats, down the banister. And, anyway, when Helena entered her militant environmental stage, live trees were out of the question.

It was only a couple of years ago that some of the decorations came out of their tissue cocoons. The occasion was the first time Mario and I hosted a Christmas Eve get-together with blended family and friends. We couldn’t have them over without a Christmas tree, could we?

So, for the first time since Izzy died, Mario rooted around in the attic for their sturdy artificial tree. We combined our ornaments, and the tree came to life, complete with an angel. I can’t say we did this with a lot of joy. But it has gotten easier, as we have gently coaxed the ritual from the shadows of loss.

Christmas Eve 2006, we again created a feast: Mario’s exquisite Calabrian eggplant parmesan, which starts with slicing and grilling eight eggplant. A “happy” pastured turkey cooked according to Martha Stewart’s cheesecloth-draped method. Rich, brown gravy made from drippings (an art I have finally mastered). Yukon Gold potatoes not mashed, but riced to ethereal lightness, with melted butter and milk gently folded in. Izzy’s sister brought broccoli salad with almonds, grapes and bacon, as well as a modern squash casserole. And a new friend, who’s in her second holiday season in the “tunnel,” brought chocolate-chip-laced brandy balls for dessert. Her soulmate, like Gregory and Izzy, was far too young when he died just over a year ago.

Whether by design or accident at this year’s dinner – Mario made the place cards – Violet, who lost her husband of 53 years to Alzheimer’s earlier this year, sat directly across from the new friend, next to another new friend, and with Izzy’s sister and Mario’s 90-plus aunt. I, too, was at this table.

A lively conversation covered a landscape of topics: from missing New York City, to whiches and thats (‘happens when writers and editors talk), to expectations of an art museum, to the lamentable dearth of walking in our city and the urine-tainted cars of our mass public transit. And then, the conversation turned to loss.

Perhaps it was the wine. Or the Christmas tree angel, perched above our heads. Perhaps it was the comfort of connections discovered and discourse made easy. Whatever the reason, we dipped collectively into the intimacy of shared loss, if only for a moment, as we exchanged parts of our stories.

Honestly, I think this is how we’re supposed to grieve. To share a moment, or a reflection, and just be heard and understood. It’s not as if you have to dissect the whole process. It’s just making connections. But in our culture, if you haven’t experienced loss, you don’t know how to react. And so what could become an opportunity for healing instead becomes just awkward. So we who have been through it have learned not to bring loss up, or to apologize when we do.

For this group, that wasn’t the case. We raised our glasses filled with wine from the common decanter of grief, sisters in the communion of love found and forever lost.

And then, with kaleidoscopic perfection, the conversation morphed again, swirling naturally away from the topic, our hearts warmed and faces aglow.


Blogger CB said...

Thank you for writing. Keep doing this please.
Sorry for your loss. For all losses.
Anyway,when I read today your story, I could even taste that wine.
Again thanks. Happiness for you and Mario.

10:55 AM  
Blogger chimera said...

a beautiful post. thank you for sharing.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Thanks for your encouragement.... It's good to hear that this speaks to you.

4:59 PM  

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