Grief, as they say, is a wheel, rather than a ladder. This would explain why the unexpected speedbumps hit you so hard.
I was putting together a holiday playlist on iTunes. For me, Jethro Tull is strongly identified with fall/winter, and no playlist for those times is complete without selections from Heavy Horses, Songs from the Wood, Catfish Rising, Minstrel in the Gallery. Ian Anderson is a brilliant lyricist, and his stuff has always spoken to me.
So it’s probably not surprising that the confluence of Ian’s lyrics and my own grief would be one of those hideous speedbumps. “A Christmas Song,” written so long ago, pokes fun at Ian’s hard-drinking father. Needless to say, I identify. “The Christmas spirit is… not what you drink.” God knows we had enough alcohol-fueled holidays, when I was growing up.
But it was Ian’s reconciliation song, “Another Christmas Song,” that had me standing in the companionway, sobbing.
Hope everybody’s ringing on their own bell, this fine morning.
Hope everyone’s connected to that long distance phone.
Old man, he’s a mountain.
Old man, he’s an island.
Old man, he’s a-waking says
“I’m going to call, call all my children home.”
Hope everybody’s dancing to their own drum this fine morning —
the beat of distant Africa or a Polish factory town.
Old man, he’s calling for his supper.
He’s calling for his whisky.
Calling for his sons and daughters, yeah —
Calling, calling all his children round.
Sharp ears are tuned in to the drones and chanters warming.
Mist blowing round some headland, somewhere in your memory.
Everyone is from somewhere —
even if you’ve never been there.
So take a minute to remember the part of you
that might be the old man calling me.
How many wars you’re fighting out there, this Winter’s morning?
Maybe it’s always time for another Christmas song.
Old man he’s asleep now.
He’s got appointments to keep now.
Dreaming of his sons and daughters, and proving —
proving that the blood is strong.
It’s really, really hard, to know that true reconciliation isn’t an option any more. By the end, the Bear hadn’t softened at all. He was still full of hate, unyielding, unsentimental. Part of that was certainly the dementia that his illness is famous for. But not all of it. Within the last few days, he did acknowledge that he wanted to live a little longer, so that he could see “his legacy” in Rowan and Kestrel. He’d forgotten entirely that Aurora even existed, and several times over the hallucinations of his final days, he asked me who she was. I held it together and just reintroduced her every time, biting back my own hurt that even to the end, girls did not matter to him at all.
The thing about a death, is that it is the place where the buck stops, not only for the dying, but for everyone around them. You can’t be there for someone’s ending, without reevaluating your world and how you move through it. It’s motivation and impetus to live the way you want to be remembered. I don’t have any wars I’m fighting any more; I’m pretty sure that there isn’t anyone expecting something from me that I haven’t yet given (and if I’m wrong, please talk to me me…).
But if you’ve got one going… think about ending it, before someone’s remembering you as someone who never heard another Christmas song.