It was just the two of us, seated at dinner. Alone on Christmas night. Dressed in our Sunday best. Candles on the dining table. Choral music playing.
“This is weird,” said my wife, slicing her turkey. “Not having Mother with us.”
“I keep waiting for her to call me on the phone. I keep waiting to wake up one morning and figure out it was all a bad dream, and that she never really died.”
“Is this turkey too dry?” she said.
“Are you kidding? This turkey is so good it’s got an R rating.”
“How about the gravy?”
“I could water ski on this gravy.”
“You like the dressing?”
“I want to use this dressing in the shower.”
She smiled. “Do you recognize the plates that we’re eating off of?”
My wife lifted a dish. It had a simple green Christmas tree painted on it.
“These are your mama’s plates?” I said.
She nodded. “We ate on them every Christmas.” Then she inspected the plate and her eyes began to turn pink.
“And,” she said, “do you notice anything about this blouse I’m wearing?”
“Your mom’s blouse.”
Another nod. “Do you like it?”
“This strand of pearls is hers, too.”
“The perfume I’m wearing, can you smell it?”
“I can. Was that your mother’s, too?”
“Yes. Do you like this perfume? Is it weird that I’m wearing an old woman’s perfume at Christmas?”
“I adore that smell. And there’s no such thing as an old woman’s perfume.”
She covered her mouth. Her head dropped. Her hair fell into her plate. She dropped her fork and her knife, and there was the light sound of sobbing. I stood and went to my wife. I wrapped my arms around her.
“She’s gone,” moaned my wife. “Why can’t I seem to feel that? Why do I keep thinking she’s still here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where is she? Is she happy? I don’t want to do this without her. Christmas was her favorite day. I can’t do this.”
“How can an old woman seem so normal and healthy one year, and then just up and die? How? Why do people die? Why, why, why?”
“I don’t know.”
“I called her every single day. She called me every single day. We were best friends. This hurts so bad. I need a Kleenex, I’m getting snot all over your sweater.”
“I don’t care.”
“No. It’s a lot of snot. Get me a Kleenex.”
“No, seriously, there’s so much snot on your sweater, it’s getting all over your khakis. Take off your pants and shirt, let me go run them through the wash.”
“I am not taking off my trousers and eating Christmas dinner in my underpants.”
Silent crying into my chest for several minutes. The Vienna Boys Choir sang “Adeste Fideles” in the background. The food was getting cold.
“Do you think she can see me?” said my wife.
“Yes,” I said.
“How can you believe that?”
“I don’t know. I just do. I believe she sees you, and me, and all of us. And I don’t believe she’s really gone. I believe she’s with us, somehow. I believe all our loved ones are with us.”
“I really do. I don’t believe she’s gone any more than I believe big waves on the ocean can truly disappear.
“I believe that waves take shape for a little while, and then they crash into the beach, and then they go back into the ocean. But they never disappear. They are always there. We are not a drop in the ocean. We are the ocean in a drop.”
“Wait. Did you steal that from a Disney movie?”
“I don’t remember. I think I heard it on ‘Finding Nemo.’”
My wife pushed her plate away. “That was a good movie.”
“Most underrated Disney flick of all time. Second only to ‘Apple Dumpling Gang.’”
She said, “Do you think Mother knows how much I miss her?”
“I know she does.”
“Do you think I’m crazy for talking to her like I do all the time?”
“Do you think she hears me?”
“I know it.”
“Can we talk to her now? You and me?”
My wife and I both bowed our heads. And the weight of holiday grief sort of pressed downward on my shoulders. My wife squeezed my hand.
“Dear God,” I began. “Please get a message to our loved ones. Please tell them how much we miss them, and how Christmas is not the same without them. And how this world will never be the same without them. And thank you for our lives, God. We are sorry if we don’t appreciate them enough.”
“Amen,” said my wife.
“I love you, Sean.”
“I love you, too, Jamie darlin’.”
“Yes. It sure is.”
“Now take off that sweater right now.”