25 December 2006

Christmas without Paul

At my brother Paul's memorial service last summer, a friend said now come the anniversaries. The first Thanksgiving without him. Our first Christmas without him. The first anniversary of his birthday after his death.
This friend knew: she'd lost two brothers herself. Her mother had loved Paul; she told Theresa that in some ways this was her third son lost.
Death being such an intimate stranger. That call comes in the night and your father will never again kiss you, rough cheeked to your smooth. You'll never again laugh in the giddiness of the moment over your brother's ready wit. You relive how it happened, wondering why you're torturing yourself, but it seems necessary -- because otherwise you keep forgetting that he's gone, that he's dead. It seems so unlikely.
There's nothing original to say about death.
Joan Didion wrote about how she kept forgetting that her husband had died. Well, yes — of course. How could he be dead?
Our loved ones are part of our life. Our life, damn it.
I want to say that we have no quarter here in this house for death — but of course we do. All of us have room in our homes for death.
My other brother, his dog, and my husband visited Cherry Creek Reservoir this Christmas morning, after we opened presents. No tree or decorations this year: we sat in the livingroom, a pile of books and dvds on a small stone table, and we opened them one by one. Outside, the remains of Denver's two-foot-plus snowstorm lay under a blue sky.
At the reservoir we took off from a trodden path, through deep snow that forced the dog to jump from one position to the next, just a bit away, breaking through the crust of the snow each time. We sat by the pond where we had scattered my father's ashes, and watched a couple hundred Canada geese plus a couple coots and ducks.
Last year we'd made our Christmas pilgrimage here with Paul.
He was with us for 45 years. And now for the rest of our lives we'll have his memory. And his baby daughter, please.

I recall the marble tombs in Arles.
In the rain.
Roman mothers, wives, brothers
Once cried by those tombs.
During a moment long ago,
Just a moment.

And now here we are.
Consumed, aware that
this moment will never leave us,
but will last forever.

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