How do we hold space for profound, global loss this holiday season?

Dealing too many people out this year.
Dealing too many people out this year.

It's morbid, but I keep thinking: My dad would have loved this version of the holidays.

When he was alive, my dad liked old movies and jazz and smoking Camels while wandering around Browne's Addition. At night, his insomniac brain kept him on the couch rewatching noir commentaries and documentaries about Nazi Germany until the caffeine shakes wore off, or were replaced with the heavy exhaustion that bled from one day to the next like a lingering shadow.

He did not like the holidays. Something about the stiff formality and pressured photographs of joy and long, heavily choreographed meals made him even more anxious than usual.

At Christmas, we piled into my Grandma Rain's little living room on Five Mile Prairie, and the youngest of us, my brother and I, would deliver gifts to each family member's chair. We opened in order from youngest to oldest. Uncles argued about their ages. Cousins laid on the floor, tossing crumpled up wrapping paper toward the ceiling, playing catch with the air. Everyone talked about the weather, how incompetent Bush was, my grandfather's garden. We ate too much and played cards and drank tea; those rituals seemed like they would never end.

When I was 15, my dad lost his lifetime battle against chemical dependencies. Shortly after, both my grandparents died, then an uncle. Pockets of family members started their own little traditions, and it's morbid, but I keep thinking, this would have been the year my dad's holiday dreams came true. Everyone stays home. It doesn't matter when you wake up, what you wear, how long it takes you to eat. No mandatory music or thrift store gifts cinched together with newspaper and twine.

My dad was morally opposed to owning a computer, so he wouldn't be on Zoom for any of this. Since I can't see him anyway, I like to imagine he's out there, celebrating in his own way: watching a seasonally inappropriate horror movie, eating undercooked freezer cookies instead of handmade pies.

This year, I'm thinking a lot about loss. Not just mine, but the many, many deaths that punctuate each new set of COVID restrictions. Just in this country, a loss the size of the entire population of Spokane. This winter, I will be toasting to them, all the missing voices that never quite wrapped comfortably around a Christmas carol. They are still singing. ♦

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Through Sept. 19
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