Stories: Who We Have Lost

Candy Hearts

Story aboutM. Desidario

When the Christmas candy goes on clearance, and I start to see all the Valentine candy overflowing from the shelves at Stop & Shop, I can only think of my friend, M, who I worked with for over twenty years.

As soon as Christmas was over, M would load a big bowl on the reception desk with candy hearts, the pastel kind, that used to be made by Necco. She’d scoop her hand (long ass nails and all) into that bowl and toss (yes, literally throw) the candy hearts at us or to us as we walked by on our way to our cubicles.

I can see her now: “UR SWEET, HUG ME, #1FAN, PEN PAL, THAT SMILE, THAT SMILE”. Sometimes, she’d read us the heart’s message as she chucked them toward us.

I miss her. When she died in the hospital after 6 days on a vent, part of me died too.


Story aboutAlan Trobe

My brothers and I would wake up around 3 or 4 on Christmas morning to see what Santa had left. Dad and Mom would appear shortly after. As I look back, I can see Dad sitting on the sofa, his thinning hair disheveled from a short night of sleep. His eyes tired, a cup of coffee in his hands wearing his robe. Around us were the surprises carefully placed encircling the tree. I loved December then. The anticipation, the joy and the closeness of family. I loved lying under the tree watching the lights sparkle off the glass bulbs. Everything was as it was supposed to be then.

The 21st of December in 1997 was different. My husband and I were spending the evening with our three kids. We had brought in the tree and had the boxes of decorations spread out all over the floor. The Christmas lights were already on the tree and little hands were searching through the boxes for the right ornament to hang. I was enjoying the moment, when an overwhelming urge to go to my parents’ house came over me. There was no reason for it, but I had to go. I immediately left an unhappy husband and confused kids in the middle of a mess. When I arrived at my parents’, Dad was sitting at the end of the sofa. He looked uncomfortable and Mom’s face said something was wrong. Dad was quiet and fidgety. Then he was up pacing through the house with Mom suggesting we take him to the hospital. The drive to the hospital seemed to take forever, even though Mom was driving way too fast. I parked the car while she hurried him in. Dad was having a heart attack. The next couple of days were a blur. Doctors had placed stents in and saved him. I walked that hospital finding the Christmas display with the trains. Watching the choo-choo go, while my head was in chaos. Eventually, I found myself in the chapel pleading for my dad to be okay. I was overwhelmed with fear and despair at the thought of losing my father. Sitting in that softly lit chapel alone, with the candles flickering on the walls a peace came over me and a voice in my mind was telling me he was going to be okay. It was the first time I faced the real possibility of losing my father.

Christmas day 2010 would bring that fear to the surface again. After a day filled with family, food and gifts for the kids it was time to head home. Dad and mom had something to tell me first. I sat down at the kitchen table fully expecting to have them tell me they were going to take a trip. Instead, I was told that my dad had cancer. They had waited to tell me until the end of the day so my Christmas wouldn’t be ruined. I felt as the rug had been pulled out from under me. That overwhelming despair appeared again. Fortunately, Dad had surgery and the cancer was removed.

Right before Christmas 2020 my husband had developed a headache that lasted for a couple of days. We were cautious because of the pandemic and were wearing masks everywhere. As a precaution I wore a mask at home too and slept in a separate room just to be safe. On Christmas eve he called me at work upset. He had tested positive for Covid, and the doctor said for me to leave work immediately and quarantine. My husband was given the antibody treatment. and he developed a high fever. I was washing and disinfecting everything giving him the run of the house to try to keep him comfortable. Christmas Day we were told my dad who was in a healthcare facility due to dementia, had tested positive for covid too. Two separate exposures. My husband was able to recover but the virus hit my dad harder.

Mom made daily calls, but he was deteriorating. He was having trouble breathing, coughing and fever. All the worst of the symptoms. Dad never wanted to be kept alive by machines. So, the decision was made to make him as comfortable as possible. We hoped he would be okay, but his age was working against him. On the 4th of January Mom asked if I could call and check on dad for her. She just didn’t feel up to it. I was in quarantine. I didn’t want to make that call. I delayed making it until i felt i had to. After the phone rang and rang, a man answered. I told him i was calling to check on Alan Trobe to see how he was doing. There was this long silence on the other end and the voice sounded rattled. The reply was finally, ” umm, not very well. He just passed away.”

Unless you have experienced that grief, under similar circumstances, I can’t explain it to you. Every part of your being feels like the life has been drained from you. I was the one who had to tell my mother that the love of her life had died. I had to call and tell my brother that our father was gone. We could not have a funeral for dad, we would not risk putting any others through the devastation we were experiencing. When the immediate family went to the funeral home to say goodbye, I couldn’t go. I was positive for covid from being exposed to my husband and in quarantine. I would not take a chance on exposing my mom, even though she said for me to come anyway, I couldn’t risk losing both of them. I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my Daddy one last time.

December tried to take my dad away three times, but it took January to do it.

Our Christmas Eve Tradition

Story aboutMike Whitmore

Christmas Eve was our favorite part of the holiday. The busyness was pretty much over and it was our time. Decorations were up, gifts were purchased and wrapped and the Christmas morning chaos when our children woke up was still hours away. We savored this peaceful last part of the day. We did the same thing almost every year. After our children were tucked in bed, Mike and I would each open one of our gifts. We would watch “A Christmas Carol” and I would sip my Amaretto cocktail while he sipped his Grand Marnier with the soft glow of the lights from our tree filling the room. Life, at that moment, was as perfect as it could possibly ever be.

Christmas Eve

Story aboutJody Settle

It’s here again. Christmas Eve. The fourth one without you. They say it gets easier over time. They don’t know what they’re talking about. All those special holiday celebrations and rituals are no fun without you.

The tree is up. It’s covered with all the ornaments we collected during our travels together. Each one brings a smile, remembering a good time in a new place away from home. There are also cat and dog ornaments to honor the pets that gave us so much joy. The newest one is the one I had made to honor you. It hangs in the middle of the tree, at eye level, so everyone can see your name and remember the happiness you brought them.

I just finished baking one last batch of Christmas cookies — the first time since the pandemic started. They’re the ones you liked the best. The healthy ones loaded with butter and sugar. Don’t chuckle. It’s true. I felt your presence in the kitchen as I worked, just like past times. I guess that’s why they came out perfectly. If only you could taste them to make sure.

All the gifts are packed and ready to go. I’ll head to Massachusetts in the morning. Everyone will remember you and all the Christmases we shared together. I hope you’ll be there too.

You’ll know the Christmas song The Carpenters released back in the 70s, “Merry Christmas Darling.” Tonight, I’ll look at your picture and sing it to you. Most likely tears will be rolling down my cheeks. It’s the only gift I can give you now.

I wish you Merry Christmas
Happy New Year too
I’ve just one wish on this Christmas Eve
I wish I were with you
I wish I were with you.

My North Star in the Cookie Tin

Story aboutStephen Wright

The fragrance of the cinnamon greets me first. We measure out heaping teaspoons of the spices which feel like a holiday wafting right up from the bowl.

The mixer contributes its own rhythm, thumping against the counter as it struggles to keep up with the large mass of dough it’s helping join with whirl after whirl of the paddle against flour and butter and molasses and delicious spices. Neutral shades of ingredients turn to a rich, dark, smooth burnt umber.

I can see his hands first: so capable and so skilled. They piloted numerous aircraft over five decades, carefully connected untold circuits on a complex train board for antique trains, took notes on legal documents for such a variety of transactions and projects, and scribbled changing medication combinations for my mama’s winding health journey. Those hands wrapped “just because” presents of puzzles and clever toys for grandbabies in cheerful paper, those hands penned heartfelt letters to his children and grandchildren. And those hands held my own, shaking as we grieved my mama, firm and steadfast as we walked though life together. More than anything: those hands held, protected, and played with little babies. He was never happier than holding them, dancing with them, stroking their soft baby and toddler and little kid hair, clasping their tiny hands in his for crossing streets and scary moments.

Those beautifully talented Grampy hands also knew how to arrange cookie cutters just so, maximizing the available oval of pepparkakor dough, a nod to his Swedish heritage and some of his favorite flavors. I can see the gold glint of his wedding ring which adorns my finger now. I can see the red plastic cutters, each with a story about it being someone’s favorite, or the best one to decorate with sprinkles, or the coveted shape everyone wanted from the two tier cookie plate on Christmas Eve. The rocking horse cookie cutter always invited an extra sweet smile across his face and for a second I could see a very young Stevie standing at his grandmother’s side, eager and earnest, learning how to bake on their afternoons together.

We never missed a moment to bake cookies together at Christmastime. It was part of who we were as a family: Jan Wright always brought a tin of freshly baked cookies on every trip, they were seen as a necessity as much as a treat. Her cookies welcomed new neighbors and reminded babies at camp or college what home tasted like. Cookies as a compass, a north star? It feels right.

The copper star with fluted edges was one he always made extras of – that cutter dating back to his childhood. He made a pile of those stars, the beloved pepparkakor cookies in December 2020 with us before COVID arrived and changed the entire direction of our lives and our future together. Can still see him at the counter guiding an effervescent two year old and a thrilled five year old with tiny sized rolling pins. Trying to keep them from eating too much of the dough, and laughing when he failed. This joy, so warm and real. The impossibility of that juxtaposition within days: between a burst of life as we knew it and life (and death) dark and horrific, as we had never known it.

Christmas 2020 unfolded differently than any we ever shared as a family, and the trauma of his terrifying slide into danger in the hospital on and right after Christmas Day and his death days after the new year will never leave the depths of my being.

And somehow still I want to rise to greet what hurts so terribly with what is bright, and relentless, and love filled, and true: our connection. Our moments. Our traditions.

I slide his perfect cookie spatula under hot shapes of trees and bells and stars, the spatula which he took from his grandmother’s kitchen and carried with him and then with my mom and our family from the 1960s until today, where it now resides in my kitchen. It’s the only one just perfect for moving dough from countertop to cookie sheet and cookie sheet to cooling rack. I hear his voice extolling the virtues of the spatula and the deliciousness of our baking work, and the clarity of his laughter, a sound which feels safe and real.

I behold the cookies on the cooling rack, the magic of holiday spices swirling up up up, and I reach for the fluted star for my first bite. His childhood memories in a shape. My North Star. My history. How I came to be here, and how I can keep giving them forward to my babies and the world.

We refuse to let your memory fade even a little, Daddy. We strive to keep you here, and we will. At Christmas, and always. Merry Christmas Eve, until we can bake together again. I love you.

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