Holidays at the intersection of memory, mourning and celebration. My father was four months dead and buried when we took ourselves to the candlelit church because it was we did. We weren't a family much immersed in religion. We'd drifted a long way from Sunday school and services, never really took to the church in the town we had moved to more than a decade earlier, because, really, it was pleasanter to sleep in on Sundays and then hunker over breakfast treat and the paper.
Year after year, the familiar ritual of candlelight and songs at midnight and the celebration of birth brought us in the doors of the church. It spoke to us. Sometimes a spirit moved through us. But the moving spirit this time was the presence of my dead father and when we turned to each other at midnight as the the vast space filled with voices breaking the silence with Silent Night, each of our faces was marked with tears and there was no need to ask what occasioned that weeping. We stood together in the presence of absence.
Seven years later, another father gone, this one a father who had welcomed me into his son's family and who has a little bit stepped into that space I had seen so clearly on that Christmas Eve. He too passed on and away from me. I mourned him and more; I held his son's hand as he navigated the tricky path of loss. I was alone in the house that night before Easter when his wife, my mother in law, came home from mass.
She was a resilient woman who tended toward stoic, but as she came in the door that night she was sobbing, long and hard. Caught herself by surprise. Told me she had not felt that four month old loss until the celebration of the resurrection and the life confirmed for her the indelibility of the death. the man she had loved was gone and with him the possibility that was life together. He wasn't coming back and that was all the more clear now that the rituals of everything being born were about to happen.