The World Keeps Turning

The World Keeps Turning

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When I was twelve I developed an obsession with dragons—the monsters of European legend—full-winged, long-snouted, fire-breathing mythical beasts. When I say obsession, I am not speaking in hyperbole. I had books about dragons, and posters of them. I had dragon necklaces, earrings, candles, statues. I had an incense holder shaped liked a dragon, mouth open to let the steady stream of smoke issue forth. Grandma cheerfully and enthusiastically bolstered my dragon collection, surprising me with tiny figurines, beautiful decorative candles, and many other dragon-y things. One weekend in eighth grade I visited a bookstore in Sacramento with a friend and her dad. Browsing a table of shiny new paperbacks, my eye came to rest on a book that would change my life: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. Intrigued by the title I bought the book, brought it home and started reading it in slow spurts, flipping through to find parts that attracted me, skipping much of it. It was a dense tome of historical fiction—no dragons to speak of—about the reign of medieval King John and his relationship with the princes of Wales.

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The writing was beautiful, and the book remained a treasured item, but at the time I wasn’t quite ready for it. Over the next few years I often thumbed through it, seeking out the passages I’d come to enjoy reading, revisiting parts that sparked my imagination. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I finally finished reading Here Be Dragons cover to cover. By then my obsession with dragons as literal creatures had faded, but Sharon Kay Penman had fueled a new passion—dragons as people: the Welsh people, who proudly fly a red dragon on their country’s flag. The sweeping, epic tale told with Penman’s signature meticulous historical accuracy was the single most entrancing piece of fiction I had read (except perhaps, for Harry Potter). A few months after moving to San Francisco and settling into my new room at Grandma’s house, I bought a language book (we had no internet) and taught myself Welsh. Actually, I taught myself Welsh pronunciation to the best of my ability. My intent was to decode the mystifying Welsh words and names scattered liberally through Penman’s book—“cariad,” “Adda” “Llewelyn,” “LLanfiar,” “Gwenwynwyn,” “Powys,” “Tangwystl,”—or to make sense of long proverbs the characters sometimes utter (“Y mae dafad ddu ym mhob paridd”). How on earth does an English speaker make sense of these bizarre strings of consonants?

So, I taught myself. I taped words for the days of the week, colors, and numbers on my wall like in a child’s bedroom. On the computers at City College (where I had enrolled in a Culinary Arts program) I began planning a solo trip to Wales, mapping out all the places of historical significance I wanted—no, needed!—to visit, the places “my friends” had touched and built.

Because you see, I had read this book so many times now that these people (who called out to me that day in the bookstore when I was twelve), were my friends. They made me care about them. They taught me things. They weren’t just names in a textbook. They were people with faults, hopes, dreams, loves…such is the magic of well-written historical fiction. Not only did I consider these historical figures my friends, I had begun to devour more books about their lives, and about medieval Welsh history. In a local bookstore I found the next two books in Penman’s Welsh Prince trilogy—Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, both equally engrossing. I celebrated Welsh victories, I cried over Welsh tragedies. I held the land of Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) close to my heart, valuing their unique culture and language, lamenting their centuries-past conquering by English king Edward the First.

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In early 2012, after I had moved out of Grandma’s house and into an apartment with my husband, Grandma had a series of significant health crises that would culminate in her never returning home. Otherwise alone in San Francisco, I was run ragged for weeks visiting her in the hospital, helping move her to rehab facilities, staying with her…only to see her slide back into acute illness (she developed life-threatening C. Diff in the hospital) and enter the ICU. This was the first time in my life that I had been confronted with Grandma’s mortality, and the experience traumatized me. I remember the three-month span as agonizing. Unfathomable. Exhausting. I almost never stopped crying. There was a period when we believed her death was imminent, so I kept my cell phone next to my head in bed as I waited for the call I was certain would come any moment, to give me the worst news I could imagine. Up until this point, I had understood Grandma’s mortality as an intellectual concept only. I knew she would one day die because all living things die. But I hadn’t understood it emotionally, and I couldn’t bear it.

Coupled with this trauma was the immediate necessity of cleaning out her home of fifty years and preparing it for the rental market. Gutting a place that had been my home, that contained some of my most cherished childhood memories, was agony. That’s the only way to describe it. I turned to my literary friends for comfort.

I re-read The Reckoning, which tells the life story of Llewellyn the Last, the final Welsh prince who was conquered (and murdered) by Edward the First’s forces in 1282. His death was of extreme significance. It signaled the end of Welsh independence for all time. He was profoundly mourned. His death wasn’t merely the fall of a beloved leader, it signified the fall of Wales. Penman deftly retells the aftermath, including a true anecdote of a bard named Gruffudd ap yr Ynad Coch who wrote and performed an elegy for Llewelyn in the days that followed. The elegy is long—this was an era that revered spoken poetry as entertainment—and conveys a grief so raw, so painful, and so haunting that it instantly resonated. I felt the bard calling out to me from the page, speaking to my unexpected grief at the devastation of life as I knew it, especially in one particular stanza:

“See you not the ocean scourging the shore?

See you not the truth is portending?

Have you no belief in God, foolish men?

See you not that world is ending?”

See you not that world is ending? Grandma was dying, something I couldn’t understand, and her house (my house!) was being packed up and disposed of…and my world was ending. I thought at the time that if I could have tattooed the entire elegy on my body somewhere I might have (an impossible feat). They were the only words that spoke to my pain, my confusion, my seemingly inconsolable grief and despair.

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But you know what’s funny? For a poem considered to be one the greatest examples of Welsh poetry and European literature of all time, the entire elegy is almost impossible to find. In those dark days, I scoured the internet, finding most of it in an ancient e-book someone had scanned and nowhere else. Even today when you Google it you might only find pieces of it, or articles dedicated to its historical significance…but not a translation, end-to-end. In the years following, I tried to revisit it several times, but it was difficult to track down. This piece of poetry had been my one comfort in my darkest days, but it was elusive, and I felt like the only living person on the planet who cared about it.

God works in mysterious ways. Grandma didn’t die in 2012. She stabilized, and then moved to assisted living in Roseville, improved and lived another five years. We occasionally talked about that terrible time, how upset I was, how horrible it had been…and how transformative it had been for me. After some time had passed, I realized I could now conceive of a world that didn’t contain Grandma. I had been abruptly forced to consider that reality, and never having considered it before, I had believed the world was ending. But I now knew what it was to feel the worst grief and pass through it, and I told her more than once while discussing her eventual passing that I knew I would be ok when the time came. I wasn’t saying it merely for her sake, but because I knew it to be true. I would be ok. I knew that day would come now, and I understood that life would move on.

So it has. Painfully. Sometimes with despair and lamenting and disbelief. But it has.

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In 2016, my husband and I traveled to Wales. My dream trip to the land of Y Ddraig Goch became a reality. I wanted to hear with my own ears the language I had stumbled through alone, never having heard it spoken by a real person. I was elated and humbled at the prospect of visiting the graves of “my friends,” the places they touched, the views they gazed at, the craggy mountains they loved. That spring Grandma was healthy, and we kept up a steady correspondence of written letters and phone calls, sometimes several of each per week. Leaving the U.S. on my first international trip was exciting and daunting in equal measure…what if something happened to her while I was so far away?

We started in South Wales, in Cardiff, the capital. While the signage of the country was in both Welsh and English (which delighted me), I heard almost no spoken Welsh. No matter. I’d heard that Welsh was more widely spoken in the North…and that made sense. The North, Gwynedd, was home to my friends—Llewelyn the Great and his wife Joanna, his grandson Llewelyn the Last, and countless ladies and men who lived and changed the course of empire. We took the train to Conwy in North Wales and after checking into our motel, walked to the center of the beautiful, ancient walled village.

Turning into the little square, he appeared just like that. Right in front of me, like he had been waiting for me the whole time—Llewellyn the Great, perched atop a column, painted in vibrant color, beardless but with a mustache in the medieval Welsh fashion. My friend. Crown atop his head, sword and shield at his side, he looked every inch a prince. My prince. I carried the words that spoke of his grandson’s death in my heart—a heart now bursting with happiness, longing, the joy of reuniting with someone you love. I had cherished the story of his life and was comforted by the elegy for his grandson’s death. I might have been one of few people that cared about the elegy, but his homeland loved him as I did—certainly more so!—and I was thrilled to be there.

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We visited many lovely places on our trip, and our last day in Conwy we took a final walk around town, window shopping and enjoying the sunshine. On a whim, we stepped into visitor’s center that we’d missed our first day. It only contained a few rooms but was beautifully maintained. Husband veered left immediately to gaze lovingly at some maps, and I wandered into the far rooms, gasping with delight at detailed timelines depicting the lives of so many of my “friends.” The last room was dimmed, and I stepped into its silence alone, sitting myself down on the bench in the center. My jaw hit the floor. My eyes filled with tears.

On a series on silk banners in white lettering atop a deep purple background, spangled with the nighttime sky, was the elegy. Huge, the banners took up an entire wall, and were lovingly lit like a precious treasure in a museum. In the dim silence, the room felt like a chapel. Indeed, it was a holy place for me. In both Welsh and English, the elegy was displayed in its entirety—the lament of a nation, a people, a way of life…a lament because their world was ending. I read each word as silent tears streamed down my cheeks.

“Have you no belief in God, foolish men?

See you not that the world is ending?”

But it didn’t end. Almost a thousand years later I was here, visiting these words. Hearing Welsh. Seeing Wales. A year later Grandma would pass, and I would remember this lament and reflect that it did indeed feel like the world was ending. But it wasn’t. And it didn’t. And it won’t.

There is a Welsh word with no English translation that I’ve treasured for a long time—“hiraeth.” The literal meaning is something like “nostalgia,” or “homesickness,” but the common understanding is deeper. It’s used to indicate missing a time of life, an era, or a person, while being grateful for their existence. It’s a bittersweet concept, the merging of gratitude and loss. It’s hiraeth I feel now, remembering Grandma. The days of inconsolable tears and frantic, panicked grief have dimmed, the hole she left remains. What fills it is the missing. The gratitude. The loss. The remembering. Hiraeth contains sadness, but it hints at containing joy, for what would we be wistful for if not for joyful places and times? Why else do we miss things? How else could I be homesick for her…homesick for a person?

In a few weeks I’ll be in Conwy again, looking up at my friend, the Welsh prince. I might visit the elegy, if it’s still there. My inner twelve-year-old will revel in the abundance of dragons, my inner thirty-year-old will remember the letters I wrote Grandma on the last trip, heart brimming with hiraeth, knowing I can’t write to her this time. And so passes the world, though it does not end, even if it feels like it might. I’m looking forward to this new adventure with people I love in a place full of friendly ghosts who remind me–

“Have you no belief in God, foolish girl?

See you not that world keeps turning?”

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One Year Later

One Year Later

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It has been a year since I last saw your face, felt your arms around me. It might as well be at once a moment and a decade. A lifetime. The person you last hugged goodbye, twice, is gone. That person hadn’t experienced the loss of you.

It was a strange year, putting aside the wound that was your absence. The effects of grief are unexpected, unpredictable, sometimes unfathomable. My sense of time was completely altered. I experienced strange lags in my perception of time passing. In May I kept thinking we were still in March, and that only a week or two had passed, just to be jolted into the present abruptly each time I needed to know what the date was. In August my mind was still hovering around late May. In October, I was discussing something that I had experienced a few weeks prior with Husband, only to realize that six months had passed since that event. I was constantly caught off guard by time’s passing. I lived in a bubble, life happening around me. It wasn’t until November came, and with it the anchor of the holidays that my subconscious began to live in the present.

I’ve been taking comfort in the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay—

“Time does not bring relief; you all have lied

Who told me time would ease me of my pain!

I miss him in the weeping of the rain;

I want him at the shrinking of the tide;

The old snows melt from every mountain-side,

And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;

But last year’s bitter loving must remain

Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.

There are a hundred places where I fear

To go,—so with his memory they brim.

And entering with relief some quiet place

Where never fell his foot or shone his face

I say, ‘There is no memory of him here!’

And so stand stricken, so remembering him.”

Sometimes only poems will suffice. I am often prone to dramatics, but I stand by this sentiment. Time doesn’t bring relief. It has brought me the strength to expand my capacity for pain. It has brought me the ability to think about it less, think about you less. The pain stays the same.

I wept in the bath last night, a place that’s now a refuge when I want to cry but don’t want to disturb Husband…not even for his sake, but for mine. I often want to cry without the added burden of telling him that I’m ok, of thanking him for his generous comfort, of engaging at all with someone else when I honestly just want to be privately miserable for a while. I laid in the hot water, a little too hot, and savored that particularly sharp sensation around my heart, an awl being run through my ribs, and I reflected that when you first died it was like getting an anvil dropped on me. I imagined Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons, the anvil smashing me comically so that I am flattened like a piece of India rubber.

At first, the anvil was way too heavy to move. Impossible. I just assessed my injuries and screamed for help—no help could fix the problem, but some help did provide a lot of comfort. Such loving words from family and friends and their support in my darkest hours I never expected and cannot express adequate gratitude for. I have the most wonderful friends. I have the most wonderful family. I have the most wonderful spouse.

And after a while, I got used to the anvil—I got strong enough to carry it through my day. It didn’t get lighter. I got stronger.

And life does go on. My days are full of laughter, often. They are full of trivial problems, and mindless minutiae that is both important and utterly meaningless. I enjoy what life brings me—good food, good friends, perfectly ordinary days with ordinary happiness. Most of the time I’m really well, and I am content in my heart with everything that has come to pass. How could I not be? Your death wasn’t unfair. It was a picture of justice—that we will all, each one of us regardless of merit, be consigned to the earth once more. Or, from another perspective, that some good and loving people get to live long, long lives with relative health and much happiness. What could be more just? But there is a hole in the world that you once filled. I will (and do) remember you with joy, but…

The transformative process called grief isn’t done with me yet. I wouldn’t feel half so bad if it had only taken you from me, but when you passed it also robbed me of all the spiritual certainty I had cultivated specifically for times like this. The rug was pulled from under me, and suddenly everything I was so sure of—everything I shared with Husband—was gone. Ideas and beliefs long held flickered out, having once been so comforting, now only filling me with bleak horror. Unable to hold them, another pain emerged…that of spiritual separation from Husband as I realized that I’m no longer certain of anything at all. I’m certain of the existence of God, and that Christ is his Son. Beyond that, I am going through motions with blind faith, hoping beyond hope that God approves. At first, this fall from grace was almost as agonizing as the pain of your absence, but now…

I’ve settled into an almost-apathy, a patience that comes from believing God will show me the way in his own time. I’ve learned that this too is part of the process, that I am still in the MIDDLE of this, not the end. C.S. Lewis, in his brilliance, puts it so succinctly:

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

I’ve come to almost envy the certainty of atheism, and the irony therein—that they often accuse people of faith for believing because it is comforting at the hour of death. If only they knew! I have found exactly zero comfort in the complexity of the afterlife, the many possibilities of where you could be now, where your consciousness has gone. The complete and total silence from you does nothing to make me feel you’re “watching over me.” Eastern thoughts once held have crumbled into ash, because I cannot fathom the cruelty of having to do this more than once, or that you’ve reemerged somewhere to be recycled ad nauseum. The consolation of the familiar in Catholicism is a meager but distinct comfort…even if, as I said, I’ve been marooned on the island of “I don’t know.” My heart, my intuition, has shut down. I am fumbling through the wreckage of my spirituality blind, led by logic (which is a poor guide in matters of faith, but better than none when all others have abandoned you). And logic brings me to Aquinas (or perhaps Aquinas, in his Aristotelian logic, leads me to his own theology) , but it doesn’t ignite my soul. My heart is not moved, for it is broken. How lucky I was at one time to ever have had my soul ignited by spiritual certainty, and what I wouldn’t give for that now. I hold on, knowing only that God is guiding me and that I must trust in Him.

So, this is where I am a year later. I am no longer stunned. I am moving around, I am searching for joy. I’m attempting to redefine who I am without you to fill one half of me, my darling soul-twin. I am making plans for the future—happy plans! I am experiencing happy things. And I’m dragging the anvil of your absence behind me, uphill and over dale, without the map of spirituality I had crafted for myself, that loved ones had helped me to create. I am moving, I am gaining ground. And I though I am lost, I shall be found. That is my one prayer these days—“Lord, help me to know what you want for me.” He is as silent as you. He works in mysterious ways.

I love you. I am thinking of you always. I hope one day we shall see each other again, my best of friends. I used to believe that we could. Now all that I know is that creation is vast and unknowable, and that you are somewhere in it. May I find you again, so I can tell you how much you have been missed.

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Hello March!

Hello March!

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Hello March! It comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, as the saying goes. If the next few days continue the way they have been, I can agree with this saying—it has been so grippingly cold in the Bay Area recently, I almost can’t believe it! I feel like I’m in Iceland again! The Sierras continue to receive snowfall, and my hopes and best wishes are with everyone up there, that the power outages may be few.

March is a lovely transitional month. It’s a month of movement. It really begins to be springy—it’s already noticeably lighter in the morning and evenings, and the trees and flowers are in bloom. Greenery is all around. The world is beginning to awaken, and I am happy to say I am feeling it in my bones. This turn of seasons lets us exhale a bit. We can poke our heads out of our hobbit holes and begin to rise from hibernation of various kinds.

March 13th marks the one year anniversary of Gram’s passing. It’s a really strange feeling. Back in December I feared this milestone. I wanted to stave it off for as long as possible. Up until now, I could say “last year at this time…” and remember her alive. A trip around the sun didn’t separate us in space or time. I could imagine her as she had been on this day, less than a year ago. But now we pass into a new era—that of years without her, not just months. Soon it will be that last year at this time I was grieving, instead of laughing with her. I was wishing she was here. Every day that passes takes me farther from her, and I feel such pain seeing the days I spent with her grow smaller on a distant horizon.

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Through a new mental health benefit my employer introduced this year, I’ve been given full coverage for up to twenty-six sessions with a therapist. I’m so grateful for this amazing and generous opportunity, and a few weeks ago I met my new therapist for the first time. I have never done therapy solo before. Last November I did some therapy with family members, but that was my only experience with therapy. I kept telling myself I’ve been dealing with my grief well on my own. Maybe I have. But there are times, days, weeks…when I fall into the pit. When I regress to a place where none of it makes sense. It’s in those times that I’ve wondered, “Is this normal? Am I making progress? How do I hold this? Where do I go from here?” And that’s where I think therapy will really be helpful. I’ve been to three sessions with her, and I love her. I’m so glad that I have this resource, and I’m really looking forward to this interesting new experience. So March will see a continuation of this new journey.

I’ve been pondering how to mark the anniversary of her passing. I’d really like to not let it go unnoticed. We never did end up doing any sort of service for her. It was such a strange turn of events. Nothing was ever planned before she died, and after…we each had such mountains of things to deal with that it was decided against. I would have really liked to have rallied the entire family, but by the time I had the energy to take the lead, the moment had passed for them. We all deal with grief in our own ways, and I’m at ease now with the turn of events, even if I wasn’t at the time. The urn with her ashes sits in my living room, atop a bookcase near the ceiling, and I look up at it and know that it went the only way it could have. But the one-year mark is coming, and I can do whatever I want now, at least for myself. I’m considering going to a long-beloved restaurant that we used to go to, to order her favorite meal and cocktail (though I don’t typically drink). If anyone appreciated a good meal and an evening out, it was her. Still, I like the idea of coming together with friends and family. I’d like to share something with Sister, I just don’t know quite what. There’s still time.

Husband gets a weeklong break from school at the end of the month that thankfully coincides with the absurdly early Easter Week. Baby Niece, Sister- and Brother in Law are visiting, and we’re so excited at the prospect of seeing them again so soon (relatively) after the holidays! Mom and Dad are hoping to come down to experience the Easter Triduum at my parish, a particularly beautiful, large, and traditional parish that is home to a community of Dominican brothers. Their Easter Week festivities are phenomenal, and I am so happy that my family might get to experience them! Husband’s birthday falls right after Easter this year, so we might bundle Easter celebrations with birthday celebrations before it’s time for him to return to the old grind.

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I make a really big stinkin’ deal out of the Easter Triduum. I’ve taken Good Friday off of work for the past few years because I love making the space to dig down deep into the silence, sorrow, and pain of what that day commemorates. For the last few years I’ve started the day by going to a Tenebrae service at my parish. This a really old ritual that involves chanted psalms and a ritual extinguishing of candles—acknowledging the journey of light into darkness. The church is filled with people, but they’re silent. The lights are off, the tabernacle empty. It’s a powerful service.

Holy Saturday is spent cooking, cooking, cooking up a storm! The tradition for the last few years has been to order a German cheesecake from Zanze’s—a beautiful family-owned cheesecake shop in Balboa Terrace, San Francisco, and then spend the day making many of our heirloom Italian recipes: peppers puttanesca, fried zucchini, Nonnie’s spaghetti sauce, salads and antipasti. Also, deviled eggs. Lots of deviled eggs. Good Friday might not be the most traditional day to dye eggs, but as I like to eat the eggs I dye, Good Friday is the day it’s done! It wouldn’t be Easter without deviled eggs!

And of course, Saturday evening is the Easter Vigil– the summit of all liturgies, the glory of glories and holy of holies, the three-hour long vigil that tugs your heart, engages all five senses, takes you on the journey of all existence– hearing the first words from Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” as you sit, shoulders pressed against your neighbors in darkness, an electric thrill coursing through every body crammed into the church. Together we illuminate the darkened space with candle light, give and receive flames from each other, witness the journey of people joining the faith, and reaffirm our baptismal promises in solemn declaration. It is truly incredible, unlike anything else I’ve ever known. It is ancient ritual, bigger and grander and older than I can ever be.

Lent continues, and now that I’m not in the throes of bronchitis, is much easier to focus on! There has been good success so far in some areas, and some work to be done in others. Plans continue to be planned with regard to our U.K. adventure that is five long months away. It is a beacon of joy and hope to look forward to, and I know it is getting the three of us through any crummy days.

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Here’s what’s on for March:

March 9—“A Wrinkle in Time” film is released (one of my favorite books!)

March 11—Gaudete Sunday, San Francisco International Chocolate Salon

March 17—St. Patrick’s Day

March 19—Solmenity of Joseph

March 23—“Isle of Dogs” film by Wes Anderson is released (my favorite director!)

March 24-April 1—Spring Break!

March 25—Palm Sunday

March 29—Holy Thursday

March 30—Good Friday

March 31—Easter Vigil

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Stuff I’d like to do in March:

–Go to the movies. I determined that last year I went to the movies exactly twice, and Husband exactly once. Goodness, we should go more often considering it’s something we really enjoy doing!

–Make Irish food for St. Patrick’s Day! Vegetarian Irish food, that is. Maybe I’ll try my hand at a soda bread and serve it with Irish butter. Yum!

–Finish booking all the train, tour, and ferry tickets for our vacation.

Not too many goals this month. It’s still winter, after all. The happiest of Marches to you! I hope everyone stays well– totally healthy and happy this month as we head into spring!

Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely

Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely

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Hello!! It has been a really long time since I did a “Delightful, Delicious, De-lovely,” post, so I’m taking the opportunity to do one, but I’m also using it as a mid-month update. Please excuse any rambling. 🙂

Delightful:

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It is a kombucha brewhouse over here! For Christmas Husband received a kombucha brewing kit and a big book about kombucha. Since he stopped drinking, he has been consuming gallons of the stuff, and he credits it for helping him stay on the straight and narrow, as well as providing him with good probiotics and something tasty to enjoy in the evenings. I’m not the hugest fan, but I don’t mind it. Anyway, the rate at which he drinks it does some serious damage to our wallets, so this new hobby might mitigate that. 🙂 I’m a big fan of homemade fermented foods, and consuming fermented foods for health, so watching him brew this stuff and tasting it during the different stages has been  really fun and educational. The first batch isn’t done yet, so we still have several bottles of store-bought ‘buch in the fridge, but I think he’s really getting the hang of it, and that this might be a dedicated hobby from now on. Hurray!

Delicious:

So I know everyone is dying to hear the ongoing odyssey of my diet…not. I’ll summarize as best I can. After posting a highly sanctimonious introduction to how great I’m going to do on the insane Dukan diet, pride went-eth before the fall and I really, really, seriously, badly struggled with it. I’ve done it twice before for short periods of time and both times I felt fine! Blame it on the season, the weather, my attitude…no idea, but this time around was wildly different. I felt severely nauseated for the four days I stuck to it, to the point where I just knew it was unsustainable. SO. Rather than give up (which is what I have done many times before when things got hard, diet-wise), I pivoted. I held onto my goal, and reevaluated. I had a wonderful conversation with Husband’s aunt, Awesome Aunt, who is very dedicated to clean eating and healthy lifestyle, and she shared a ton of her wisdom with me. So I’ve landed in a place that looks VERY different from Dukan…but feels really, really good and is great for both me and Husband. It will almost certainly morph and change as the weeks go by, but I’m pretty proud of myself for not falling off the wagon and eating a whole cake when I realized Dukan wasn’t working this time around, for whatever reason.

The place I’ve landed is somewhat low-carb (I’m calling it “conscious carb”), vegan plus the occasional piece of fish, low-fat but natural fat, with big fat emphasis on vegetables, and a vacation from processed sugar. AND IT FEELS SO GOOD. My tummy is full of warm food that I can give to Husband too, in good conscience knowing it won’t affect his heart health, which is a priority. We are eating the same diet again, as all last year he was vegetarian and I was rampantly consuming meat. It’s the solution to many needs, and I’m really happy with it.

Also, I began classes at my gym, and I love them! I’ve taken spin classes, TRX strap classes (the hardest thing I have ever done in my whole life), Anti-Gravity yoga classes done on fabric hammocks (so much fun!)…it has been really great. So sticking to food that I enjoy while adopting the new gym habit I find is helpful too. I have more success not doing ALLTHETHINGS at the same time.

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That’s my breakfast yesterday and today! Whole grain tortilla, hummus, sautéed spinach, roasted red pepper, cucumber, avocado, and tomatillo salsa.

Another thing I did for the first time this weekend is I sat down and meal planned for the whole coming week. I NEVER do this. What I normally do is grocery shop, buying whatever ingredients look good, then each day attempt to create something out of them, which does two things: 1. Causes stress because I never know what to cook and end up either needing to get more ingredients to make something real, or waste things I don’t use 2. Cause way more work for myself therein because food becomes a constant and expensive guessing game…which, like I said, also causes a ton of waste.

NOT ANYMORE. With this new diet/lifestyle/whatever, I know I have to have meals ready-to-go, ready to take to work, ready to be made and not agonized over before I run to the gym or wherever. Here’s how I did it.

  1. I sat down and charted out all the meals that I need for the week (“lunch on Monday, snacks on Monday, dinner Monday,” etc.) and when they need to be made based on our schedules. I skipped breakfasts, but realized that to be in total control of all meals during the week without relying on eating out, I’ll need to prepare all of Tuesday’s meals plus lunch for Wednesday on Monday night– a snafu that I hadn’t been dealing with which had been causing a lot of issues. I figured out all the days each meal will need to be made and then…
  2. I combed my favorite YouTube channels, cookbooks and food blogs for meals that meet our current food standards. This took FOREVER. Not only do the meals have to meet our current food lifestyle, they need to work together– tortillas for one night can be reused another night, or cilantro for one meal will be used again elsewhere, so I’m not buying tons of ingredients that will only be used once and then languish. Choosing 5-6 recipes that really jigsaw together like this took, no joke, an hour and half of just sitting at my coffee table only doing this.
  3. After that, I made my master shopping list. This was fun, and shopping with it was a new experience because for the first time every single ingredient I threw in my cart had a purpose! I know where it’s going to get used, and I’m not worrying about why I bought it, or that I shouldn’t have, or that it’ll be wasted. It won’t be!
  4. When I got home, I used a pre-made meal planner template in my Numbers program to plug in the meals for the week so I can refer to them in the afternoons when I get home to know what the heck to cook. Currently, there is plenty of food in the fridge. I am un-stressed. I have extra time to do stuff. We have way less waste. I am so excited. For me, two hours of concentrated foresight is helping my week go more smoothly and frugally, and I am so happy I decided to do this!

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That’s last night’s dinner– cinnamon cocoa walnut chili! Delicious and vegan!

Anywho, it will all evolve of course, but I’ve learned a big lesson, and I’m going to try to hang onto it.

De-Lovely:

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For Christmas, Mom had this chaplet rosary made for me. The big, luminescent pink beads came from a beaded necklace Grandma wore all the time. It was an iconic piece of jewelry for her, and after she died it was one of the many strings of costume beads I didn’t choose for myself, only because I felt I just couldn’t take everything.

There were lots of tears Christmas morning when I opened this. I’ve kept it in it’s box, but open and near me ever since. A woman at Mom’s parish makes rosaries, so I believe she asked her to make this. Such a lovely idea. I was so touched, it is such a useful and meaningful way to put these beads that I know so well to use, and to sanctify them, in a way.

On New Year’s Day when I was on our hike, I told Grandma that this year I would find joy. I said, “I’m still going to be sad that you aren’t here. It’s still going to ache. I’m still going to cry over you, probably often. But I’m going to find joy. Because you want me to.” And she did. She told me many times, “When I die, please don’t be sad for too long.” Honestly, I’ll be sad for the rest of my life. The space she occupied is empty and exposed, and it can’t ever be filled by anyone else, ever. So that’ll never stop hurting. BUT. Last year I was bereft. I didn’t do things, I almost never left my house on my days off except to grocery shop. I didn’t try new things, I didn’t want to. All the books I read were books from my childhood that comforted me. I regressed to a place of safety to repair the hurt. It’s what I needed.

I can’t do that forever, and I know it. And I don’t want to. Despite her absence, which colors everything, I’m pretty happy. I’m much happier than I was even just a few months ago. Time is normalizing. I’m trying new things, focusing on new things. Yesterday I went to a bookstore and spent hours poking around all by myself– something I didn’t do at all last year. It was fun! I’m moving my body again, and nourishing it again, and having fun again. And I know that makes Grandma happy, wherever she may be.

Hope you are all having a lovely January. Have any of your resolutions needed adjusting? What is brining you joy this month? Take care. ❤

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Ghosts of Christmas Past

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Christmas was her most favorite thing in the entire world. She owned it. She reveled in it. Christmas was a glorious celebration of things she loved most in life—children and gifts. Gift giving was her love language. There are few people in the world as materially generous as she was. She had grown up poor during the Depression, with an alcoholic father, her mother dying when she was just twelve. Painfully, she recalled the single dress she wore to school, day in and day out, the bags of goods handed out, or brought to their home, marking them the poor family on the block. There were other poor children, lots of them in fact, but that didn’t matter. She was still ashamed. When she had money later in life, when Poppie was retired and their house paid for, they could do anything they wanted, and so they did it. Part of what she wanted was to bring joy through giving. Boy, did she do it.

It varied from $5-$20 here and there, candies, treats, spontaneous dinners out any old time… to $1,000 for a friend who had a medical bill come due, $100 tucked into anonymous Christmas cards for our friends who had no idea where they came from or who the giver could be, grocery shopping sprees for my then-boyfriend (who would become Husband), and vacations by boat and by plane to faraway lands with her two loves—Sister and me.

But like I said, Christmas was her most favorite thing in the entire world.

For years, decades, since before I was born, Christmas Eve was celebrated at her house at a big party for friends and family. Aggie, her oldest sister, and Aggie’s husband Unc, Gloria, a dear friend and neighbor, Auntie Geri, a best friend and relative of Poppie…and so many relatives besides. All are dead now, and she was the last. The ghosts of Christmas Past.

Her tree often went up December first. We helped her decorate, of course. Every kind of beautiful glass ornament shone from the artificial tree that almost touched the ceiling with it’s pointed glass gold topper, the bottom branches laden with her handmade ornaments. She’d made them over the years, full of beads, lace, sequins, and every color of the rainbow, each a little treasure. Beneath the tree was a village, every little house and shop lighted, a mirror for a skating pond, miniature Christmas trees and white fluff for snow completing a scene I wanted to shrink down into and live in. An army of nutcrackers of every shape and size stood sentinel atop the hi-fi cabinet near the ceiling. Bringing them up from the garage each year was like greeting old friends. The cavalry of rocking horses, also of all shapes and sizes, surmounted the mantle, no less than fifty Christmas cards tucked behind them from every friend, relative and acquaintance she stayed in touch with by mail.

And after December first, there were so many other things to do each year that marked the coming of The Best Holiday Ever. One afternoon was always reserved for making gingerbread boys, which we would decorate with multi-colored powered sugar icing, and every kind of candy sprinkle imaginable. One evening was slated for visiting Auntie Marcie’s Christmas Bazaar—a craft sale held in the basement of her cousin’s San Bruno home as a church benefit, amid a bustling party. We loved this sale, because everything was handmade and charming, and affordable for children who needed to spend their allowance money to buy their family gifts. Alongside my parents she would sit in the school auditorium as we sang in the annual Christmas pageant. These events, and many more besides, were sacramental in their ritual and sacredness—to her, they made the season bright, and through them she made it bright for us.

Food was always a highlight of the Christmas Eve party. The dining room table was moved aside, pushed against the front windows to become a buffet table. As the food was warming in the oven and on the stove and in the toaster oven (no microwave in her house), the Christmas dishes were laid out—serving platters, tiered cookie trays, dinner plates (purposely mismatched), appetizer plates (also mismatched), and serving utensils all lovingly collected over decades, all Christmas themed. Everyone got a different Christmas plate, but she always took the one Spode with the Christmas tree on it.

The coffee table held the mini hot dogs, and the butterfly-shaped dish with mustard and ketchup in the wings, a shot glass of toothpicks and a stack of cocktail napkins handy. The dining room table held the feast. Two kinds of stuffed shells (chicken with white sauce, spinach with red), pizza squares, teriyaki chicken wings, “Swedish” meatballs (really Italian), macaroni salad, Italian cold cuts, deviled eggs, homemade baklava, little finger sandwiches, smoked salmon, and trays of cookies. The butterballs and shortbread were brought by Gloria—dear Gloria, with her booming voice, her perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke, her painted fingernails, who always took the corner chair in the living room by the hall next to the hi-fi. She ate pigs feet, and drank whisky, and was Irish and feisty, and loved Sister and I like we were her own grandchildren, but really we were no relation except of dearest friendship. She loved watermelon candy. In the run up to Christmas, I’d go with Gram to the Sweet Factory at the mall and fill blue-striped cellophane bags full of all their watermelon flavors to give to Gloria Christmas Eve. She was generous, and always shared with me.

All the many presents Sister and I got from Grandma and Poppie, and from everyone else except Santa, were opened Christmas Eve. Toys and clothes, books, cards with checks inside…all the generosity and love that marks the season overflowed in the living room, where everyone sat on the claw-footed sofa, love seat, chairs lined up around the edges with TV trays open before them and Burl Ives or Andy Williams crooning from the record player. She was Swedish, she always said, and the Swedes always did Christmas on Christmas Eve. She wasn’t wrong. Her father, such as he was, was from Stockholm. They had always done presents on Christmas Eve. It was just what she knew and loved.

Sister and I wore our Christmas dresses, usually matching, with white stockings and mary janes. Grandma wore her festive trousers—our favorite ones, black with multi-colored polka dots—and held a highball of brandy and ginger ale clinking in a lowball glass. Poppie sat in the chair on the other side of the hi-fi from Gloria, an uncharacteristic beer in a tall pilsner glass propped on the Infinity speaker (vodka and soda would follow), his cheeks immaculately smooth, white moustache trimmed ever-so-neatly, smelling of original Old Spice and soap.

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I can hear these ghosts now. I can smell them and taste them. I can feel their hands on my cheeks, see the joy on their faces, feel the warmth of their hugs. And I absolutely cannot fathom that they are dead and gone, and that this Christmas—a relaxing, loving, delightful Christmas—was the first in what will be a lifetime of Christmases without her. Without them. Without any of them. With all of it totally dead and gone.

In the months after her passing, I realized just how easy it would be to develop a real kind of psychosis. If I just spoke the way she did, said the things she said, made her gestures (all known by heart), I could just become her, and so keep her alive. If I sang her songs, if I told her stories, if I called myself “Fessie,” with an “f,” the way only she did…I could be her, and she wouldn’t have to leave me. Each time that thought occurred to me, I immediately realized “this is how multiple personality disorder happens.” Maybe. In a way, those thoughts were the same kind of everyday intrusives that anyone has– “I could step in front of this B.A.R.T train,” “I could totally just drive off this cliff,” “I could yell ‘bomb’ in a crowded airport,” the kind that for healthy people are immediately followed with “That was a weird thought,” and then dismissed as the fleeting fiction they are. “I could create a second personality so as to keep my dead Grandmother alive,” seems infinitely more complicated, and uncomfortably reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie plot, but, naturally, it too was followed immediately by “No.”

“No. That’s not how we keep our loved ones alive.”

“I know. But I could…”

“No. You couldn’t. Everything you’d be trying to hold on to is already gone.”

“I know.”

And I do know. I know that the way I keep them alive is by reliving their memories, and sharing them. Right now, they hurt so much. They hurt so much that over Christmas I tried really hard not to think about them at all. And I did great! Until two days ago, when the dam failed again and I apologized to Husband through spontaneous sobs that came unbidden as we were falling asleep. I think he’s learning that the tears aren’t the hurt, they are the healing. I’m learning this too.

I’m learning. I’m remembering. I’m holding on.

 

 

 

 

Hello November!

Hello November!

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Hello November!

Ah, November, the regal and somewhat aloof (but equally beautiful) sister of fun-loving, gregarious October. Where we laugh in the face of death in October, in November we pause to hold our beloved dead, and all those the world over who have gone before us, in our hearts. The little triduum bridge of Hallowtide linking the last day of October to the first two of November carries us from the coattails of late summer and into deep autumn. Soon we will turn back our clocks, soon we gather to give thanks.

This is going to be the first Thanksgiving for our family without Grandma. We’ve had Christmas without her. We had both Christmas and Thanksgiving without Dad, who traveled a lot during his career. Family members go missing from holidays occasionally. But for me, Sister and Mom, this will the the first Thanksgiving of our lives that Grandma won’t be here.

Partially to mitigate the weirdness and pain, and partially because it’s the first opportunity to do something quite different for Thanksgiving without mortally offending Grandma, we’ve decided to do something completely different and celebrate Thanksgiving the Puerto Rican way! I am really excited for this, and looking forward to the closeness the preparation will bring our family. And preparation, it will take.  A Puerto Rican Thanksgiving, both on the island and in thousands of Puerto Rican households across the mainland U.S. consists of foods very different from what you might think of as traditional Thanksgiving foods.

First of all, there’s no turkey. The main event is a pernil, which is a roasted picnic pork shoulder, marinated in adobo (oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper) and cooked so the meat is fall-apart tender and the skin is potato-chip crisp.  Our family is going to include the following as side dishes:

Pasteles– Puerto Rican “tamales” made from root vegetables, plantain, and simmered, marinated pork. This year I’m also going to do some experimenting with vegetarian pasteles for vegetarian/vegan-wannabe Husband. These take a full day to prepare, so we are devoting the Saturday before Thanksgiving to making a big batch.

Arroz con gandules— Rice with pigeon peas! A classic rice dish also sometimes called “Spanish rice.”

Amarillos— This is my favorite P.R. side dish—fried ripe plantain. We eat plantain in all forms, from rock-hard green to squishy black, and this dish is made from the latter. Amarillos are amazing because the sugars in the super-sweet plantain caramelize when fried—they’re so delicious!

Ensalada—A delicious salad of diced tomato, avocado and red onion

Habichuelas guisadas– Stewed beans. These beans are flavored with sofrito and green stuffed olives, and made saucy with tomato sauce. They’re perfect with rice.

Tostones—Green plantain slices mashed and fried until crispy.

Mojito—Not the alcoholic drink! This is a sauce made from mashed raw garlic, oregano, oil and salt, and is drizzled over tostones, rice…anything you want. My aunt carries a jar with her to restaurants, insisting it is the only salad dressing she will ever eat.

Queso y basta de guyaba—a dessert of sweet guava paste and salty white farmer’s cheese. The pairing is incredible! Funnily enough, Grandma (who wasn’t Puerto Rican) really loved this as a snack. She thought it was delicious, and she was right!

Flan—my mother make the world’s best flan, hands down, no contest, ever. My Dad even says it’s *as* good as Abuelita’s (his mother’s) which really says something!

Arroz con dulce—a sweet, coconut rice pudding, a little on the dry side that is pressed into a pie dish and served in wedges. It’s studded with raisins and dusted with cinnamon!

Coquito– Puerto Rican eggnog. This rich holiday drink is made from fresh coconut milk (made from fresh coconuts…not easy!), egg yolks, sugar, and rum. I’m going to experiment again with coconut meat chunks purchased frozen from Trader Joe’s to save us the pain of having to crack open coconuts, and also try making a non-alcoholic-but-still-delicious version with a dash of rum extract.

So, that’s the Thanksgiving menu! We will all gain ten pounds, no doubt, but it will indeed be worth it.  

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Here’s what’s on the calendar for November:

1st—All Saint’s Day

2nd—All Soul’s Day and Requiem Mass for our dearly departed

3rd—Feast of St. Martin de Porres

5th—End Daylight Savings Time

11th—Veteran’s Day

12th—National Pizza Day (Count me in!)

22nd—Fest of St. Cecilia

23rd—Thanksgiving

24th through 27th—The craziness of Black Friday weekend!

26th—Solemnity of Christ the King

30th—Feast of St. Andrew

I really love the Hallowtide triduum. My parish is doing a magnificent requiem mass, with a brass ensemble, incense, and all the smells and bells. It’s good for the soul, in so many ways.

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Some things I’d like to accomplish this November are:

–Make pasteles, and successfully make delicious vegetarian pasteles

–Bake a pumpkin pie

–Adopt better T.V. habits Monday-Friday

–Spend at least one Friday evening and Saturday in “shabbat mode,” as my darling Jewish friend, H, would say. That is, no electronics. No media. No traveling. Just books, Husband, good food, and soul-nurturing activities.

–Finish all of my Christmas shopping before Advent begins December 3rd! ALL OF IT!!

I think those are reasonable goals. Wish you the best and most productive November!

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Ashes to Ashes

Ashes to Ashes

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Hey guys! This post contains descriptions of a dead body. It’s not gory, and isn’t over-the-top, but it’s real. Just letting you know, in case that kind of thing isn’t for you. 

For the last few months, I’ve been meditating on and wrestling with what we do with bodies after people die. With what happens to them, and how we feel about them. I’ve wanted to discuss my experience with your body for a long time, but I keep avoiding writing this, because its painful and real, and I don’t know where to begin. I wanted it done in October, though, and as October is almost over I’ve run out of time to continue putting this off.

You died on March 13th.

I drove the two hours to your assisted living center in shock, sometimes weeping quietly, sometimes tearlessly resigned. Mom and Uncle were with you, we talked on the phone. They needed to go out, so they timed returning with my arrival.

Uncle was sitting on the love seat, crying quietly. Mom gave me a hug, kissed me, also crying. I turned the corner and saw you, in your bed.

You had your cream sweater over your nightgown, but you were under the covers. You had been sleeping, after all. As I approached you, I was shocked at how little you looked. So little! I couldn’t comprehend that your body had become this…this little thing. The second thought hit me like a train, and has stayed with me ever since. I remember almost laughing as I thought it— “This isn’t you!”

This isn’t you. I almost scoffed. Looking down at you, your skin was so yellow (we would eventually conclude that your liver must have been shutting down at least a day before you left), your hair was almost blueish, and of course, you were so small. This isn’t you. It came home to me so intensely. You, the woman I loved, the woman who loved me, who occupied this body…isn’t this body. It was the first mysterious, inexplicable comfort of that difficult afternoon.

I sat in a chair next to you, leaning on the hospital rail of your bed. I touched your hand, grasping it, clinging to it. I clutched your forearm, forcing myself to remember how the bones in your forearm felt…running my hand up your arm over your sweater, remembering the outlines of this body that would soon go away from me, these arms that had wrapped around me so many times. Your skin was cool, but not cold. In the movies, they always say corpses are cold, so you imagine a coldness like ice. You didn’t feel that way. Even when I kissed your cheek, it wasn’t cold. It was just cool.

Under the thin blanket, I could see the outline of your legs, your feet. The exact way your toes pointed in a little, always, as they did in life. I wanted to crawl into bed with you, cling to you. I would have except the railing was in the way. So I leaned over the rail, and held your hand. We stayed that way for a while, not as long as I wished we could have in retrospect, but as long as I really could stand it in the moment. Mom and Uncle didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. None of us knew what was going to happen now, what life was going to look like. None of us could have prepared our hearts to make this less painful.

Uncle left, and Mom and I got lunch. I’d had a letter you wrote me in my purse that I hadn’t opened yet, and I read it at the table. I smiled, not tearing up at all. Mom asked how I could read it without crying. I just could. I was just in shock. It wouldn’t hit me for weeks.

Mom had arranged for your body to be picked up while we were having lunch, but we forgot a piece of paperwork in your room, so I told her I would get it. She told me that when Poppie died, her father, she had seen them remove his body from the house and it was very upsetting to her, so she didn’t want to see you removed. I understood. Besides, they should have come already.

I entered your room, but I heard movement around the corner from your entryway. I tiptoed around, without being noticed. You were on a gurney, and you were wrapped in thick, white plastic. It came up over your head, and a man in slacks, dress shirt, tie and gloves was pulling straps over you, to keep you secure.

It was an odd moment— I knew you were dead. I understood that you weren’t occupying your body any longer. But there is a frightening and unique pain at seeing someone you love wrapped like meat, and an odd non-sensical aversion to seeing a body wrapped so as not to breathe. I knew you weren’t breathing, but it’s disconcerting just the same.

I whimpered and backed away. “Excuse me,” I said. The man turned around. “Oh!” he said. “I’m her— her granddaughter.” “Oh! I’m so sorry.” He came up to me, folding his hands behind his back and leaning in with a slight bow in greeting. He stood in front of me, I could tell, with the kind intention of shielding me from what was happening with your body. He had a kind face, and offered his condolences. I asked him about the paperwork, and he gave me my answer. I’ll never forget how subtle his movements and posture were, and how they were clearly intended to protect me, to help me. I was struck by his professionalism, and I was grateful. I went downstairs, got in the car with Mom. The truck he was going to drive you away in was parked at the back entrance, the one Sister and I used every time we’d visit. We sat for a long time, talking. As we drove away, I saw that van pull out of the parking lot behind us, and I couldn’t comprehend that you were in there, and that I would never see your body again.

Three months later I was opening a box in Mom and Dad’s basement. They had received it a few days before. Next to a bundle of paperwork was a heavy urn rolled in bubble wrap. I cut through the wrappings and slid the urn into my lap. It was surprisingly heavy. It looked like something you would have chosen— a beautiful cream color with a dark brass lid— though I don’t think you did. I unscrewed the top. Inside was a plastic bag, sealed with thick wire, filled with the fine, white, gravelly sand I remembered from when we scattered Poppie’s ashes in the Bay. The bag had a sticker on the front that said your name, date of death, date of cremation (eleven days after your death), and the crematorium that handled it. Wired around the top was a metal tag that I later learned was a tag that had been attached to your body during the cremation process. It contains unique numbers that identify the crematorium and your body, so if ashes are forgotten about, they can be identified. It means those ashes are really you.

I dug my hands down into the urn, on the outside of the plastic bag, to feel the weight of the remains in my hands. I remember thinking— “This contains your forearm that I clutched, your hand, your arms that held me. How strange it is, that I hold in my hands, the hands that bathed me, that fed me, that rubbed my back, that loved me up to today.” How unbelievably strange death is. I have come to terms with it, but I will never understand it. Never.

About a month ago, I discovered a YouTube channel hosted by Caitlin Doughty, a woman who runs a funeral home in Los Angeles who does outreach and education about death, because she feels our culture is really death-phobic, and would benefit from being more educated about it. I agree. I watched her video about cremation a few times. She explained what the process is, and what happens to a body during the cremation process. I started the video a little nervously, but facing the reality of precisely what happened to your body— your beautiful body that I loved so much— was actually incredibly healing for me. It was honest and real, and I found I could accept it with peace.

It isn’t easy to picture the remains of your loved one going through that process. And I have many, many times. But there is comfort in shining light into dark spaces. As Caitlin says, being present with your dead (emotionally and physically) can be painful, but the reality of what happens when a person dies is nothing compared to the nightmares and macabre fantasies the human mind can think up when they don’t quite know what happens…when they hide from reality in fear.

Looking back, I wish we had had much more time with your body. If we had it to do over again, we might have asked your friends if they wanted to say goodbye to you. We might have let you stay in your room for a day or two. We might have just stayed longer. I have been in the presence of two corpses in my life, yours and Poppie’s, and both times I felt enriched for it.

Your urn sits in our living room, atop our bookshelf near the ceiling. We’ve decided we will inter it in March, around the anniversary of your death. In the meantime, I asked to have it. I want to be near those bones that held me tight. Sometimes I take it down and open the lid to read the label, to pick up the bag and feel the weight, to look at the tag that ensures this was you…to be with my dead, because it helps.

This is the time of year that we remember our beloved dead. Thursday we hold the requiem mass, in honor of everyone who has died this past year. I will be there, clutching you in my heart. Remembering your warm embrace, the feel of your cheek on my lips, the smell of your hair, the color of your lipstick, the way you drank your coffee. I will be there, and your body will not. And I’m beginning to feel ok with that. I’m beginning to feel ok.