I am currently recovering from a weekend of parties. Really, there were only two. And really, I only had to clean my house for one of them. And really, all I made was that carrot cake I always make. But, see, one of them was kind of a funeral, I mean, a "Celebration of Life" for my uncle, the one who gave me the cabbage. The other party was to celebrate my father's birthday, and my father is nothing if not good for a party. Oh, I guess it was a little much that they were both on the same day.
For days before everyone was at wits end to have everything in order: the food bought, prepared and delivered, the program polished, the slideshow perfected, the letter from the cousin who couldn't make it printed, the houses cleaned, the tables and chairs set up and prettied, the extra bedding put out of sight, the mass of old pictures scanned and printed and playfully arranged on the tables, all bodies cleaned, and an honest calm embodied to meet the extended family we haven't seen since the last funeral.
It was stressful and awful and achingly awkward in anticipation. I was sure the whole thing couldn't possibly go off without a glitch. A memorial and a birthday the same day--how could it be good? We were exhausted. We were already well into grieving for my uncle, and we had already gone through the graveside service for the immediate family just days after he died. Having the second, less-solemn memorial felt redundant, except that the rest of the family needed it, and it was what he wanted.
As a result of the timing we were all still so frazzled from the hype of holidays and the slow blow of his death that I wasn't sure what the point of trying to "celebrate" was at all. I want to cry at a funeral. Or a memorial. Or a celebration of life. Call it what you may, but I think deep down everyone else wants to be a little sad too. And we were. I think more people cried at the celebration than at the funeral. I cried the whole time. At the funeral it was almost like I felt too much pressure to cry. I maybe teared up once or twice toward the end. But at the celebration, the catch-22 was that the moment someone tells me to be happy, every fiber of me pushes the opposite direction.
But somehow the dueling dynamic of happiness and grief really did work out that day. It was, dare I say, beautiful. Even just acknowledging both life and death on the same day felt incredibly satisfying. It was appropriate, even when I thought it would be anything but. Laughing and crying wholly and at the same time turned out to be common, therapeutic, and surprisingly equalizing.
Keeping in mind this paradox, understand that it seems only appropriate to make an announcement of new life in the midst of death and grief. On the first day of Advent, about seven weeks ago, two things happened. In the evening, my friend Susan, the one I could barely mention, died of cancer. And just that morning, obviously oblivious of the direction of the day, I learned that new life had crept close: a new baby is supposed to come waltzing into our lives around July 29th.
Even now it seems abrupt to put those two in the same paragraph. But given the circumstances I have found that this is the only way I know how to tell about this new thing I'm working on. The two came into my life together, and it would be awkward and incomplete to try and ignore one just to keep things tidy.
With the onslaught of nausea and the exhaustion of both grief and first trimester ridiculousness I barely held myself together through Christmas. I slept a lot and alternated between intense cravings and pure revulsion. Meanwhile, my family seemed to hold their breath with me while my uncle kept clicking on. He had wanted to live to Christmas, and he was nothing if not determined. He died December 26th at three in the morning, the day after Christmas.
So, my December did not go as planned. The deaths were basically expected, eventually, but they still came as a shock. The pregnancy was neither planned nor expected, though it was welcomed in its surprise with an openness I only possess when the unplanned occurs. And the complete abandonment of this blog and all other writing were not exactly what I had hoped for. But here we are anyway. We are expectant of life. We are relieved that these deaths are behind us and that we can start to process. And best, we are hopeful with this reminder: life may always be close to death, but death is always also close to life.
Thanks for reading.