Earlier this month, on a day that felt more like Indian summer, my son and I cut long grape vine branches from the two grape vines in our backyard – vines that my grandfather planted more than 50 years ago, I’m sure. We stored them on the second floor of the garage until this morning when my husband and I finished the project.
It’s a sturdy-looking wreath with a garland of tiny gold balls wrapped around it, two stars, a gold poinsettia decoration with some plaid, Christmas ribbons hanging down. All of which we had on hand from past Christmas holidays.
Holding it reminds me of my grandparents. They would have admired our thrift.
Making it reminded me of my in-laws, Alice and Archie. Our first Christmas in this house, they drove down from Maine to be with us. We had snow that year. On the second day of their visit, they showed up at the door with garlands of fresh greenery. Archie made a frame to fit around the front door and somehow, he tied all of that greenery to that frame. He was very matter-of-fact about the whole thing – and quite content to take care of this project without any help. I loved the smell of pine that filled our entrance hall that holiday season.
I miss them both.
I miss my grandparents and I miss my parents too.
As it happens, I can visit my in-laws and my grandparents any time I want to. When the weather’s nice, I can walk through the village to the cemetery on the hill – 8 acres that you don’t expect to find hidden away in the village – to visit Alice and Archie. I can drive to White Haven cemetery and visit my grandparents.
Visiting my parents is a bit more complex because they’re buried at Arlington National Cemetery. I’m overdue for a visit.
Once, when I was writing a sympathy card to a friend, I wrote that the thing about poetry was that the spaces between the words speak to the grief that hobbles our prose – you can say, “I’m sorry for your loss,” but, that, by itself, is never enough. I copied out a poem, In Blackwater Woods, by Mary Oliver, folded it and slipped it inside the card.
That poem can be given to anyone regardless of the time of year. But, if it’s Christmas, which it will be very soon, and, you find yourself grieving losses, absent loved ones who you can only hold in your heart, then you might find solace in one (or both) of these two poems that I wrote. Both are called “Visiting the Dead.”
Visiting the Dead
I watch her pull up to the edge of the cemetery lawn,
turn the engine off, open the door.
Leaning inside, she drags the Christmas wreath
over the seat. Bent into the wind,
she wrestles it to the spot,
stays long enough to push the stand
into the ground, hunkers into her coat,
then gets back into her car.
She drives away,
never once looking back.
Visiting the Dead
I sit in my car
at the curb.
A man rides by your grave,
on a bike,
his daughter strapped behind.
He wears a leather flight jacket
because it’s cold.
She wears a safety helmet
in case they fall.
He points to six wreaths
with holly and ribbons,
on a family plot.
He turns his head
to look at her
“Aren’t they pretty?”
You would have smiled.
If it’s hard for you, this Christmas, take a deep breath. Make a wreath that reminds you of your loved ones. Choose at least one keepsake to use as an ornament that makes you smile.