My grandmother was my roommate, when I was little -- the two boys were in one room, my parents in one room, my father's mother in one room, and that left Grandma and me. Roommates! I would look at her face powder and try on her red lipstick. I would watch and laugh as she wriggled into her girdle every morning, and she would laugh, too. I would beg her to tell me a story about my mother when she was little as I lay, resisting sleep. I would snuggle up to her back in the night, and she would pat me three times. I'm here.
A year or two passed, and she became ill, with the same illness I have now, at a time when there wasn't much to be done about it. Her co-grandmother had died, so there was a spare bedroom, and my mother fixed it up for me: a grown-up girl's room, with a gold satin bedspread and ecru curtains at the windows. Because a little roommate wasn't what my grandmother needed now. She needed to rest. She needed nitroglycerin. She needed digitalis. She needed mineral oil in orange juice; her "cocktail." She needed the doctor in the middle of the night. I would hear him come and go, from my new grownup girl room, hear him confer quietly with my parents in the front hall as he was leaving.
I would visit her in our old room. I would bring her her cocktail, and we would joke about it. I would sit with her. I would make her oatmeal, on the reasonable premise that oatmeal makes you strong, and she certainly needed to get stronger. But she was often nauseated; she couldn't eat the oatmeal. Every day after school I would run up the stairs and into our room to see if she was okay. Every day she was still there. But she was not okay.
One night I awoke to something. The doctor, probably, I thought, and I got out of bed to listen from the top of the stairs. Down the hall, the door of our old room was open, and the light was on. I went to the door and saw a surprising sight: the bed was empty, the covers turned down. Where was she? I could hear my parents talking softly in the living room, so I went downstairs.
I sat in my father's lap. Your grandmother has died, he said. My mother sat on the couch, looking very small. Oh, I said. I realized that I had known that when I saw the empty bed, but to hear it spoken out loud made it official.
Such a long time ago it all was. Such a magic grandmother she was -- such Christmas magic she made: such cookies, such homemade cards, such candles, such potholders. So many fine Christmas things she showed me. I told my mother the next year that Christmas no longer felt the same to me, that the magic was gone from it since Grandma had died. It was good, I told her. Just not magic anymore. Now I wish I hadn't said that; I'll bet it hurt her feelings. Or maybe not. Maybe she was feeling exactly the same way. Maybe that was what it was to be a grownup.
What will Christmas be without him? Without her? Who will I be this year, at this holy time? Into everyone's life these questions will come; if they have not come to you yet, they will. None of our loves live here forever.
But they all live, still, in their peculiar new way. It took me years to know that the love of those who have made my life sweet abides, and that I can touch it with my heart when I can no longer hold them in my arms. That they are even closer to me now than they were when I could hold them close.
What do you mean when you talk about being "in Christ?" my friend asked me the other day.
Simply that we are all in Christ. We are there now. We on the earth, living our linear, one-damn-thing-after-another lives, don't have much sense of it. The blessed dead, though -- which is everybody, no matter what hellfire devotees tell you -- sense it fully. No, they don't sense it. They are it. Christ is all in all, and that means all. There is no time, not really. Time is just here. And it's only temporary.
What will it be like without him? Stay tuned and stay alert -- you are changed by his death, but something else is showing itself, against the day when you've healed enough to begin to see.