Grief: Hold on to Christmas memories of those who are no longer here
Well, here we are at Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, all in the same week. These holidays are packed with memories and traditions, so I am preparing, as always. It's a comforting and pleasant activity.
I have the standing rib roast and a leg of lamb ready to cook on Christmas Day. My dear husband Baheej and I always made a lot of fuss over Christmas. Someday I'm going to organize those 44 years of Christmas photos into one album. An old fashioned idea but it would be fun to have. Hope I get around to it.
In the meantime, the focus is on this year. The holidays can provoke important feelings and emotions that make it necessary to manage long-term grief.
When the children were younger and just starting their families, we all gathered here in Sleepy Hollow and dressed up for the annual Christmas dinner dance formal at our local country club. Quite a party. And we got a babysitter to take care of the grandchildren and entertain them with a pizza party and video movies while we were away. Then a couple days later, we'd have a big Christmas dinner at home and open presents. Those were the days … it was lovely.
After the grandchildren started growing older with their own activities and obligations, Baheej and I always hosted Christmas dinner here anyway for dear friends and part of the family, whoever could get here. It was always wonderful. Baheej loved Christmas.
Actually in Nazareth when Baheej was growing up, Easter was the biggest holiday. But Christmas was big, too -- and his father, his brothers and he called on every family member and close friend for a Christmas Day visit, where they were offered a small cognac or cup of coffee and some Jordan almonds. They had to divide up a list to determine who would visit each family. Families and friendship networks were very big.
This year, I put my tree up early, with presents wrapped and under the tree. I even have gifts for my kitties. And, as always, there are a few gifts for Baheej under the tree. I usually add to his "zoo" of animal figurines on his office bookshelves. This year the zoo gets three roosters and a vintage piggy bank I found at a new shop in downtown Dundee next to the village hall, Half Empty Nest. It's a darling shop, very artistic.
Now I still prepare dishes ahead of time, such as grape leaves stuffed with rice, lamb, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. And I will make Brussels sprouts with bacon, a recipe from my great beautician, Amanda, at the wonderful Spa Bleu in West Dundee. Of course, I will also have baked potatoes, salads and pecan pie.
Baheej and I usually celebrated Christmas Eve with a simple down home Nazareth dish such as okra with lamb, or eggplant with lamb, or kefta -- a baked layer of spiced ground lamb and onions with pine nuts and tahini on top. This year, kefta. I always have baklava, fingers, birds nests, etc., on hand for dessert at Christmastime, made by Shatila bakery in Dearborn, Michigan.
This year my friend Jolie and I made Christmas cookies together. We both did one or two of our favorite recipes. My contribution was my Grandmother Anderson's spritz butter cookies. I even found my cookie press to use, stored in the garage. I have only used it one time before, many years ago. I have grandmother's recipe box so perhaps next year I will attempt her ultra thin sugar cookies and turn them into her decorated Christmas "wreaths" with green frosting and little red candies to represent cranberries. Or her amazing Swedish ginger cookies, also very thin. These rolled cookies will take a little more finesse and practice.
The point is: Holidays, though difficult for the bereaved in many ways, also offer an opportunity to bring up happy and comforting memories of childhood or of your lost partner, parent or friend. And remember, they are not really gone; their spirit is probably right there with you.
And no one can take away those wonderful memories. So merry Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at email@example.com or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan.