I am back on the plane, headed back home to Phoenix. I have been spending the week with Melissa's family outside of Boston. Melly and I would alternate the years between each other’s families each Christmas This year would have been her year regardless, and so it feels right to have been here this week. It's been a loud and raucous time, hanging out with a two-, four-, and seven-year old. I've traded in the quiet solitude of my shop for the never-ending-sugar-high of my sister-in-law's house the week after Christmas. It's been a fun exercise in logic.
The last time I spent Christmas with the Milloy clan, back in 2014, my, at the time five-year-old, nephew woke Melly and I up at hour of 5 AM with jaw-dropping news that "Santa came! Santa came!". We all shuffled downstairs, half asleep, to watch the kids tear through their presents. We had bought our three-year-old niece a stuffed animal catfish. Every adult that saw it thought it was cute, and how thoughtful. Our niece saw and immediately thought what every three-year-old and prison inmate would think: “how can I use this as a weapon?” Before long she was swinging it by the tail like a plush Louisville Slugger.
Thankfully this year has been a little less destructive, if not a little more painful. There are the typical hurts, the feelings of loss and loneliness, and the recovered memories that sneak up on you. I found myself on the edge of tears on Monday night at the sight of Lee Kum Kee Black Bean Garlic sauce, one of her favorite ingredients. The thing I wasn’t anticipating were the little kid questions and stories about Aunt Melly. The openness and honesty is endearing, and the curiosity is something that is natural. Each of the kids is grieving in their own way, at their own pace. The loss is an abstract thing, out there with long division. At times is may feel like magic, at other times so harsh and difficult to work through that you want to cry. The hard questions have to be accepted as their way of ‘figuring it out’. It is not my place to say, nor my feeling, that they should be chastised for sometimes cutting too close to the bone. It is fine, I would rather answer it directly and truthfully than have to tiptoe around the pain.
The evening of that last ‘east coast Christmas’ may be one of my favorite Christmas memories. After the kids went to bed, off to dream about all the things that they had hoped to get but didn’t, we all retired to the living room. Everyone was exhausted, worn out from a late night Christmas Eve packing stockings, and a long day telling the kids “don’t hit!”.
We turned the lights down low and the fireplace up high. We all had a glass of our favorite beverage, dressed in our pajamas as a defense against the fatigue. All the board games seemed to complex. Nobody felt much like talking, all of our conversations had run their course. The TV was turned to Netflix. Without much discussion, we settled on Anthony Bourdain. He was visiting Montreal, learning about poutine and Molson. We all sat in that room for an hour, Melly’s Mom and step-Dad, her sister and brother-in-law, entranced by the show, quietly falling asleep to dream about love and life.
I knew at the time that it was a special moment with special people. I had a friend who used to say that you knew when you loved someone when you could sit quietly with them for an hour, just happy to be in the same room. I felt that love that Christmas night, and I will feel it tonight when I finally get home and walk in to that big, empty, house. I won’t feel it as solitude. I will feel it as being able to sit quietly with Melly’s spirit, free to talk if we want to, but just happy to be near one another.