Two weeks after my grandma died, her daughter Carol died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 63. Again my family sat by a Zoom memorial service and held our grief by the screen. This death from afar had no paper program to fold or a wooden bench to support or damp hands to shake. No heady soap or perfume smells, no mothballs or bad breath. With these non-contact funerals, it’s almost like death never happened. The memories cannot be memorized.
Left cold by the disembodied, two-dimensional loss, I began to withdraw into the three-dimensional world. I inherited all of my aunt’s knitting, her gigantic collection of mohair yarns. Knitting, something I tried and not learned years ago, came back into my life as a balm when I most needed something to do with my hands. I studied the fuzzy yarn, the hand-dyed magentas and the Smurf blues and the chartreuses, the orange that is perfectly suitable for two of our cats, and was amazed at my aunt’s choice. I had always considered Carol my favorite aunt, but suddenly I saw how little I really knew her and how much I wished I had her. She sent us all of the scarves she had made for Christmas for several years in a row, and I mocked her. Now I walk around the house wrapped in it, squeeze it and miss the idea of closeness.
The holidays are a time of grief for many people, as losses rise and defy the meager attempts we make to cheer. I never got it. In this year of no congregation, those long lost or suddenly missing seem to have emerged early. For the first time, I see the holidays as something I need to get through the year. I cling to the twinkling lights, the snowflakes, every semblance of twinkle.
When my state of New Mexico was closed in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I searched the internet for butter, sugar, flour, and sprinkles. I feared that after the last wave of hoarding began, I might not be able to get the amounts I needed. My mother had already finished her first 48 nut cups, a family recipe for the smallest pecan tarts, and decided to skip the kolachkys, the Slovak half-moon pastry with jam in the middle, which I hated as a kid. Soon she would be squeezing green almond dough into her spray gun with green fingers and asking my father to sprinkle the wreaths.
In the meantime, I’ve given up my computer, chores, and bathing routine and crawled from tray to tray, tray after tray of gingerbread, crumbling piñon-rosemary shortbread trees, and lemon-sugar cats. I press my hands into the batter and enjoy the whiff of sugar that lifts butter against the side of the bowl, the papery chocolate gush as the blade of the knife slides over it.