Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Changes & Needs

Merry Christmas.

On this holiday, I urge each of you to cherish your loved ones and the precious moments you share with each other. And listen to your heart - it'll tell you some damned silly things, but we're rather silly creatures, for what that's worth.

This was my first Christmas without my father. I didn't understand at the time why, but while writing the obituary, managing the legal/fiscal immediacies, doing the funeral arrangements, arranging a funeral reception with reasonable grace and dignity - the one thing that was important enough to me to shift me from sweetness/light/cooperation to "dig in the heels, obstinate, emotionally messy" was a desire to at least celebrate some portion of the holiday at the familiar family manse.

My younger brother and his wife had proposed to do the whole thing at their house, and I concurred in the dinner being there (reluctantly, as I am awful traditionalist - some things, in my view, should only be changed at gunpoint), but for reasons I didn't understand I dug in my heels at the "haul everything over there" part.

Ritual. For some more than others, it's something we cling to - patterns of behaviour that allow us to pretend that life makes sense, that all is right with the world - or that, at least, rightness is at least within the realm of the achievable. It can allow us to lie to ourselves convincingly about the degree to which we actually control our world. See "silly" above.

Despite our best efforts at responsible decisions, pragmatic planning, and prudence thousands of variables (variables to which our happiness or lack thereof are completely irrelevant) every day affect our fate - from the minutiae of arterial function, to human interaction, to grand piano's falling from great heights.

The routines and rituals of daily living allow an awful lot of us to either accept that, or drive the reality of that into "plausible deniability". Birthdays, holidays, Christmas.

See again, "we are a very silly species".

I understood why I'd dug in my heels so firmly on Christmas morning as my nieces, Mom, and younger brother and his wife opened packages - and while I opened a few, I was mainly relaxing for the first time in over a week, and possibly over six months.

I miss Dad, and if I could have him back in good health (something he'd not enjoyed in 20 some years), I'd be willing to take the bullet myself. But that's not going to, and can't, happen. But while I'd held myself together for the sake of the family, I realized the one thing *I* needed was a reassurance that life and family would go on in the face of our loss.

I'd bounced out at 8:30 am, done a whirlwind cleaning, made shortbread cookies, laid out an appetizer spread, prepared beverages, and done a last minute check to see that all was "in place".

And as my nieces squealed and giggled, and my brother and his wife warmed as they saw Mom enjoying herself - I leaned back, sipped my coffee, and breathed. And this evening, looking back, I understand (I think).

Tired, but satisfied. Mom thanked me about as effusively as a Midwestern Depression kid can for assembling Christmas when she couldn't - right down to stocking stuffers, fresh cookies, and presents under the tree. Turns out she needed that, too, and for pretty much the same reasons.

Ritual. Pretty damned silly, but pretty damned important - like a lot of emotion-based stuff.

I'm taking from this a fairly simple lesson - when folks are grieving, don't screw with their routines and rituals even if you have good intentions, unless it's absolutely necessary - and if you must change stuff up while folks are grieving for whatever reason, provide the closest simulcra to the abused ritual that you can - it may just be the ritual someone is clinging to for sanity in the face of tragedy. It's not nice to mess with it.

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