Butter, Sugar and a Tablespoon of Grief

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Two weeks after my grandma died, her daughter Carol died suddenly and unexpectedly at 63. Again, my family sat through a Zoom memorial service, clutching our grief through the screen. This death from afar had no paper program to fold or wooden pew to steady me or clammy hands to shake. No heady soap or perfume smells, no mothballs or bad breath. With these contactless funerals, it’s almost as if the deaths never happened. The memories can’t imprint.

Left cold by the bodiless, two-dimensional loss, I began retreating into the three-dimensional world. I inherited all of my aunt’s knitting, her gigantic collection of mohair yarns. Knitting, something I had tried and failed to learn years ago, re-entered my life as a balm when I most needed something to do with my hands. Studying the fuzzy yarn, the hand-dyed magentas and Smurf blues and chartreuses, the orange that is a dead match for two of our cats, I marveled at my aunt’s choices. I’d always thought of Carol as my favorite aunt but I suddenly saw how little I really knew her, and how much I wish I had. She mailed us all scarves she’d made for Christmas several years in a row, and I mocked them. Now I walk around the house draped in them, squeezing them, missing the very idea of closeness.

The holidays are a time of grief for many people, when losses bubble up and balk at the meager attempts we make at cheer. I’ve never gotten it before. In this, the year of no gathering, those who are long lost or suddenly missing seem to have shown up early. For the first time I understand the holidays as something I need to get through the year. I cling to the twinkle lights, the snowflakes, any semblance of sparkle.

As my state, New Mexico, locked down in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I found myself searching the internet for butter, sugar, flour, sprinkles, fearful I might not get the quantities I needed after the latest wave of hoarding began. My mom had already finished her first 48 nutcups, a family recipe for the tiniest pecan pies, and decided to skip the kolachkys, Slovak crescent pastries with jam in the center, the kind I hated as a kid. Soon she’d be pressing green almond dough into her spritz gun with green dyed fingers and enlisting my dad to help sprinkle the wreaths.

And I, meanwhile, have abandoned my computer, my responsibilities, my bathing routine, and am scrambling from the oven to the wire rack with tray after tray of gingersnaps, crumbling piñon rosemary shortbread trees, lemon sugar cats. I am pressing my hands into dough, relishing the slap of sugar aerating butter against the side of the bowl, the papery crush of chocolate as the blade of the knife slides down it.

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