Death, Philosophy

Goodbye, Holidays–Hello, Blue Puffy Comforter

I have almost always found the Holidays to be delightful, but this year, my husband Fred and I had to struggle to find the enjoyment that seemed to come almost effortlessly in years past. We spent Thanksgiving Day in the living room of his mother’s house, eating our dinner off TV trays as my mother-in-law lay a few feet from us in a hospital bed. Also nearby was one of her dedicated caregivers. We all knew that this Thanksgiving was not going to mark the beginning of a time of celebration and togetherness, but rather, the beginning of a painful goodbye to one of the most important persons in our family.

December started with a funeral, but the day after that funeral, my husband started hauling out Christmas decorations. In a way, we were functioning on autopilot, but in a matter of hours, we had enough sparkle, greenery, and strategically placed poinsettias to make our home festive. Was my decorating dynamic and original? No—but I got it done. Was my shopping inspired? No—but I got it done. Was my gift-wrapping lovely? No—but I got it done. And with each Holiday activity completed, my husband and I began to feel a bit more normal.

One of the mantels in our house.

One of the mantels in our house.

By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, Fred and I felt a tremendous sense of relief that we had managed to make it through a complicated, rather sad, Holiday Season without falling apart. We opted for a quiet New Year’s Eve celebration with each other. Our plan was to shoot some pool, have a tasty dinner in one of our local eateries, go to a movie, and then head home to watch the “ball” drop in Times Square. A special bottle of Prosecco (a Christmas gift from our daughter and son-in-law) was chilling in the refrigerator so that we could toast the New Year.

We hit a glitch right away because I had forgotten that my right hand, post-arthroplasty, could not handle a pool cue, so we nixed that part of our plan. But our New Year’s Eve dinner was lovely, and it felt so pleasant to be eating fine food, surrounded by convivial people—it just felt so REGULAR. Seated at our cozy table for two, Fred and I simultaneously heaved a profound sigh and reached for each other’s hand.   Although the support of family and friends, and the comforts of long-established family traditions, had helped us deal with the loss of Fred’s mother, our support of each other had been the essential element that had buttressed us. That night, we celebrated what seemed to be a turning point—the end of bad times and the beginning of better ones—but above all else, we celebrated our partnership and the strength it had given us.

After dinner and a movie, Fred and I headed for home and the Prosecco. However, it did not take us long to realize that watching the “ball” drop was an impossibility—we were too pooped and had the good sense to head for bed.

Now comes the “blue puffy comforter” part of my ruminations. On New Year’s Eve day, I had completely winterized the master bed: flannel sheets, a fleece blanket, and my beloved blue, puffy comforter. Our brick 1833 farmhouse, although an interesting old place, is not the warmest abode on the planet, but this comforter has been keeping me cozy for years, no matter how frigid the temperatures become. Swaddled in my pink L. L. Bean lady’s long johns (perhaps the least attractive sleepwear known to humankind), sandwiched between fresh flannel sheets, cocooned in the warmth created by my comforter, and bolstered by a lovely evening shared with my husband, I experienced moments of pure happiness and contentment. Briefly, I forgot about illness, death, and loss. Memories of hospital beds, funeral homes, and a desolate wintry cemetery had dissipated. I was alive, warm, satisfied, and even hopeful about the coming year.

No spiffy outfit, no boisterous gathering, no late-night jocularity, no ball-drop in Times Square. Instead, pink long johns, a quiet wife-husband date, a few sips of Prosecco, and the homely pleasure of my puffy comforter. Even without a game of pool, this New Year’s Eve was pretty close to perfect.