America thrives on the superficial. Nothing screams “superficial” like the holidays. Never a fan of this particular season and its excess, my tolerance this year is at its lowest ebb.
Last fall at this time, Mark was out walking and was more than a month into his final trek. As Thanksgiving approached, we were sad that Mark wouldn’t be with us. We were also stressed knowing that in less than a week, we would be moving 26 years of stuff to a new house, having just closed on our house in Durham.
It’s only Tuesday, yet I’ve already heard three separate media outlets doing a version of “how to cook a turkey.” Are there no cooks left? Just this morning, NPR had Bon Appétit’s Adam Rapoport in to talk about getting through the next few days “fueled by anxiety,” as you choreograph the perfect family gathering around the bird. My suggestion for the person from Rhode Island hosting 27 people at her house—dump the anxiety and order out for pizza or Chinese.
If you’re not invested in maintaining the facade, then in my way of thinking, the holidays are likely a time of dissonance and even angst. The most noble attempts at down-sizing and disconnecting from “the Christmas machine,” or something like daring to eat differently only deepens this sense of alienation from friends and family. Mark’s death has done nothing to dull the usual holiday malaise creeping in pre-Turkey Day. In fact, his being killed has only heightened it.
Mark’s life at the end found him on a personal quest beyond empty consumption and the spiritual void at the center of American life. He also happened to be less cynical than I was (and am).
No bird for us this year. Even if Mark was coming home and spending the holiday with us, we’d be doing up a plant-based feast of some type. But, that’s not an option this year and I doubt that it will be ever again. While we have a standing invitation from a family member to have dinner with them and their extended family, I can’t muster the energy required to make the usual happy-talk expected. “How’s your year been?” answered with, “a fucking nightmare” makes people uncomfortable. And we all know, it’s more important for people to be comfortable (and dead inside) than actually open to the realities that grieving people live with on a daily basis.
There’s never a shortage of drivel to read about how to “navigate the holidays after losing a loved one” out there. One suggestion I found that wasn’t half bad is to “start a new tradition.”
That’s what Mary and I are going to do. We’re getting out into nature again. We’ll be hiking at a mountain that’s just a bit more than an hour away from us. Neither of us has hiked here before. Our efforts will be rewarded with beautiful views, offered from the top, of Penobscot Bay.
Then, we’ll drive home and enjoy a simple meal and try not to be too blue as we think about past years when Mark was here with us.