Friday, December 18, 2009

The Present of Christmases Past

It has been approximately six and one-half months since Suzy B. - Margaret's mom and the rock of her family - died after a five year battle against the insidious bastard that is breast cancer. Sadly, the second half of this year has been chock full of "firsts" for Margaret and for the entire family that every one who has ever lost a loved one has had to endure. We are now at the top of the stretch of the Christmas season. Seven days from now, we will celebrate (giving that term the broadest possible definitional construct perhaps) the first Christmas since her death.

And with apologies to Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer life is a whole lot more complicated than, "Hallelujah noel be it heaven or hell The Christmas you get you deserve". One week away from the other heavyset bearded fellow's arrival (one of us is actually here all of the time) I know not what Christmas shall be like for Margaret, for Joe and for the rest of the family. I take little comfort too in the fact that for once my lack of insight is not mine alone. Here on the 18th of December, while Margaret has her hopes and her fears battling for inside position in her mind and in her gut all she knows for certain is that she does not know for certain how she is going to feel on the 24th and 25th of December.

I believe however that as she been ramping up her preparations for the traditional Christmas Eve "Perpetual Pisces" Dinner (any fish you wish all night long - served along really great stuff such as vinegar peppers, stuffed escarole and too many other items to mention here) that shall take place at her parents' home - as it always has - and the annual Christmas Day festivities that shall take place at our home - as they always have, she has been able to find a bit of peace in the past.

My mom-in-law was a notorious saver of things. She was not one of those people one sees on a reality TV show - her life consumed by her need to save. She was however a faithful historian. She served unofficially as the recording secretary of the life she lived, keeping an informal, yet highly organized series of notes chronicling every significant family event. And she made sure that she filed along with her own notes any documents that cross-referenced the event. I found it remarkable the other night to listen to my wife read off the menu for Christmas Eve dinner from 1973 - as well as everyone who was present for it. But when she was then able to tell me what she and Frank had asked for that year for Christmas, because Suzy B had saved the Christmas lists each of her two kids completed, I was at a loss for words.

Family was the "everything" of my mom-in-law's life. Apropos of everything, she was the "everything" of her family. Years before she could have reasonably anticipated awakening one day to find a pain and a lump in a place where neither had been before and before she could have contemplated the journey through Hell on which those discoveries would take her, she planned for this year. She did not know then of course that "this year" would be, in fact, this year. But it is. And she was - as she always was for everything - prepared for it.

Margaret lost not simply her mom in June, she lost her best friend. Every night this week she has sat on the couch in the den, poring over the records her Mom kept and finding a reason to smile, to laugh and to cry. All of those are good things - even the crying. For we know not where we are going if we forget from whence we came. Suzy B. always remembered. Thanks to her, we shall never forget.

-AK

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