A year ago today, at 7:35 in the morning, my mom died.
A time machine wouldn’t be of much help if you can’t go back with a cure for cancer that has yet to be invented. If you can’t get around the cancer, if you can’t undo the part where it crept into her brain unnoticed until the Saturday after Thanksgiving… then a year later I have nothing but gratitude. Certainly not gratitude for her death, but gratitude that we have no regrets.
Maybe a good death would be sudden. An aneurysm at 93 with all of your faculties, at home, in your own bed, in the middle of the night. But given the iron-clad premise of cancer at 67, she had a good death. The best in care, the knowledge that her family came when called, colleagues and friends who came to see her in the hospital, an unplanned last meal with some of her favorites: matzo ball soup, lemon cream cake, tea from Teavana.
Last year, I made the calls that you make when someone dies and drove six hours to my sister’s house. They had already put up their tree and we had the exuberance of the boys to propel us through to New Year. This year, there is a Christmas tree in my house. It is the first in at least 14 years. Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I put up a tree that I had some kind of ownership over. I certainly didn’t have a Christmas tree stand and I can’t remember if I ever owned one. I have a stand now, purchased the same day as the tree. A stand and a tree with LED lights and ornaments with stories: a salty peach, a crocheted hat made by my aunt Norma, a replica of the Serenity. No, seriously. The Serenity is hanging on my tree.
As already mentioned, I’m not a Christian. The cognitive dissonance here is minimal. The tree is an older, pagan symbol of fertility and these rituals are at least as much about fertility and the cycles of the earth as they are about a man who, by some scholarship, was actually born in September.
But tonight I stood in front of the tree with the same kind of reverence you bring to an alter in a designated house of worship. And gratitude. Profound gratitude that I have a house to put a tree in. Gratitude that we did family right by seeing mom through her death, and then in the aftermath, a conflict-free grieving process in which we (my sisters and I) continue to support each other. For the abundance of love in my life. For the dog and the cat. For employment. For all the ways I am privileged beyond my earning.
I’m not bragging. I didn’t earn any of this. But I wouldn’t dare minimize the good things that are present in my life by focusing on what a selfish mind might find lacking. Not tonight.