When You Reach “The End”

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent hour upon hour absorbed in the deeply unhappy task of clearing out the home of someone I loved very dearly. This task fell largely to my sister and I, and we did it because that’s the way life works. It gives you unpleasant tasks from time to time, and you do your best to complete them.

So we’ve sifted through old books and clothes. Through what amounts to a history of her life as a teacher. Through quilts and notebooks containing the careful sketches of all the quilts she designed and made for members of our family. And as the sifting went on and on, I kept finding myself, as someone who thinks a lot about story in general, in the midst of stories about her.

There are stories about when she cooked a particularly awful meal, but still met with a whole family’s groaning about it with good humor. About the times when she brought my sister and brother and I to her school for the day, with us dressed to the nines—because that’s what one does. About the time she took me to a Color Me Beautiful consultant to have my colors “done.” I was thirteen at the time and stymied by the request to bring all my make-up (which consisted of one Wet N Wild eyeliner and some lip gloss). About the composition notebooks full of lists and advice she used to give us (for real) and the Vogue magazines with dog-eared pages with looks she thought we should try (also for real). About her joking that the wig she wore during chemo looked much better than her real hair.

But it wasn’t just thinking about these stories that got to me—it was dealing with the realization that these were the only ones I was going to have of her. These old stories that we’ll tell and retell—that we’ve already spent considerable time retelling—are the only ones we’re going to get. There are no new ones to come. Cleaning out the house made that more finite for me.

I sometimes joked, while she was alive, that she was a real character. We all are, in a way—the protagonists of our own stories and the secondary characters in the stories that belong to other people. And she was one hell of a character. None of which makes it any easier that her story has reached its “The End.” But like a well-worn edition of a favorite book, I’ll reach for these stories again and again, for comfort, for laughter, and to remember the importance this particular character played in my life.


Celebrating the Light

Our mantle of candles (along with some kid-made masterpieces).

This has not been a great fall. Or, let me take that back: in some plain, everyday ways, it has been a lovely fall. The weather’s been great. My kiddo has hit some new heights. My husband is, as always, my rock. My friends and whole family continue to amaze me with their love and generosity of spirit. So, there’s all of that—and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

On the flip side, there’s been the enormous grief of watching someone I love dearly slip away and then mourning her loss. There’s been stress and worry and exhaustion and an ever-intruding sense of sadness. These are also nothing to sneeze at. As the days get shorter and darkness becomes more present in all of our winter worlds, I was feeling a little glum.

Which brings me to celebrating the light. I read this BBC article about the Danish concept of hygge, vaguely translated as coziness, but meaning much more than that. It’s lighting candles and fireplaces, eating and drinking tasty things, welcoming friends and family into your home for warm times together.

And, as I interpreted it, it’s not letting the darkness get to you.

I’ve thought a lot about this idea over the last month, and finally—just this past week as world events took another grim turn—decided to take action. I lined our mantle with every candleholder I could find in the house and stocked up on firewood. Each night as the sun goes down, I light the candles. It’s oddly comforting to have that glow filling the living room as I spend time with the people I love most. My husband has gotten in on the act by buying us mead to mull and lighting a fire each night. My kiddo, always a first-class snuggler, is all about the warm blankets. We’re walking and reading and enjoying meals.

These are all very small things to do, but they’re really helping. Somehow just the resolution to be cozy and welcome what the winter—and what life in general—brings is helping.

So, as the days get shorter and weather colder, at our little, yellow house we’re getting cozy like the Danes. We’re celebrating the light, one small step at a time.