I have a clay replica of a rustic kitchen on my kitchen counter. It happens to be one that Sean gave me as a gift on his return from an extended stay in Puerto Rico with his high school girlfriend’s family. Having moved to a house half the size of previous ones, I don’t really have the counter space to spare, and I find myself moving it from place to place, trying to find the perfect, not-in-the-way spot. There really is no good place, but I’ve yet to put it away somewhere. There are many, many things that are in boxes or albums or closets, but some that I want to keep in view, and this is one.
As I was cleaning around it the other day, I realized that we survive loss and the passage of time through memories. Some of them are ones that we repeat over and over again, to the chagrin of our family. Some of them are relived with the other we shared the memory with. Others are very private, personal, ones that only mean something to that one person, in this case, me. When I look at this miniature, I see something much more abstract. To me, it represents Sean thinking of me and connecting this gift to his memories of me.
I have often centered holidays, birthdays, etc., around the kitchen. Each holiday, the three kids (Allison, Sean and Bridget) and I would review a ton of recipes that I retrieved from all my various cookbooks and magazines and then, painstakingly, whittle them down to a dozen or so. Then, we would each take assignments. One Thanksgiving, I had surgery and the three kids did all of the dinner, with a little help from me while I sat in the corner of the room. Their respective grandmothers were forbidden to enter, as all they would do is slow things down with questions (neither one loved to cook), which would distract the concentration of the cooking squad.
While pulling out some traditional Thanksgiving recipes this year, I found one in Sean’s handwriting (printing, really) for Pumpkin Pie and another for Deep Dish Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese Crust. The steps were written meticulously, which for Sean was an effort in and of itself. I treasure these loose-leaf pages. The site of them brings back the vision of the kids laughing, making a mess and proudly serving their fare, and of Sean obviously treasuring his part in the planning.
Sean often told me that I made everything into an extravaganza. He once noted that I owned every piece of kitchen equipment possible, including a crème brulee torch (try doing it in the broiler!) and a cherry pit tool (important when preparing a lot of cherries). He was right on both accounts. I did like to celebrate. For some reason, I thought that life was too short not to, and that we needed to make any event a happy one. I particularly wanted my kids to be close and have fun together, even though their conversations and teasing were often at my expense.
The holiday season is fraught with things that bring back memories: carols, family recipes, cards, new pictures of children showing how they’ve grown since the last card. None, however, is more nostalgic than the Christmas tree, at least for me. Every year, I gave the kids three things on Christmas Eve: a stuffed animal, Christmas pajamas and an ornament. The pajamas were so that the pictures were cute in the morning (should I share the one where Bridget and Allison had matching cow PJ’s?). The stuffed animal was a gift they could hold onto until morning. The ornament was always one that was a reflection of them. Each year, when I put one of their ornaments on the tree, I know exactly whom it belonged to and when I gave it to them. Some of them have been given to Bridget and Allison for their own trees, but Sean’s remain with me. It’s bittersweet, as you can imagine, but I treasure every single memory that comes rushing back to me.
Christmas was so exciting to him as a kid that I’d have to fib about the real date. He just couldn’t fall asleep on Christmas Eve otherwise. When he was old enough to know better, he and Bridget would take turns setting their alarm for some ridiculous time, and then they’d go pounce on Allison. Had I known that their awakening was a planned attack, I might have hidden all of the alarm clocks!
The next ‘spontaneous’ event was them sitting at the top of the steps as Glenn got out the huge video camera so that he could memorialize their surprise on Christmas morning. (If I really wanted to embarrass someone, I’d somehow figure a way to capture Glenn’s commentary. The old DJ in him took this assignment seriously.) The kids would sit compliantly on the steps, but once they hit the room with the gifts, all bets were off. The fact that I was also extravagant with gift-giving lent the morning a sense of controlled mayhem, to be accompanied by mimosas, pecan French Toast, home made cinnamon buns and later, breakfast! (I’m guessing right about now that Sean wasn’t kidding about the extravaganza part of my personality).
What I’ve just done is take memories of wonderful times to help make this holiday just as special. Many of the people who were with us on holidays: my Dad and Mom, Glenn’s Mom and Sean are no longer able to be with us physically, and two of our children (Lauren and Bridget) live far away; however, every time I put a Christmas ornament on the tree, I will be thinking of the person who gave it to me, or to whom I gifted it. I really believe that this is the beauty and import of the holiday season. Right before we embark on a New Year, we have the chance to reflect on all that we have experienced and all whom we have loved. It may bring tears to our eyes, but those tears will reflect the light of tree lights, an appropriate symbol of those whom we hold in our hearts.
For my family, this has been a year of near tragedy as well as miracles. With the support of this community, we were literally able to help Bridget and her family through some very difficult times. Some of those memories are ones that I try hard to forget; however, there is value, even in the memory of sadness.
I saw an episode of a TV show, where the woman was dying of cancer. She happened to meet a priest, rabbi and imam (it was a hospice cafeteria, not a bar J) and asked them why life and death had to be so painful. The Imam said something that has stayed with me: ‘It’s the chance to witness the charity of others, some whom you may not even have known.’ This certainly was the case for us. The response to Bridget’s situation was unbelievable. Some of the generosity of spirit came from her friends and mine, but I know that a huge part of the support came from friends and fans of Sean and the Cause. In this way, Sean continues to play an important part in his sister’s life. He visibly adored her and would do anything to keep her happy and safe. Part of this miracle is a new Sean, one with a unique and wonderful soul, who already sheds his own light on anyone who meets him. The new memories of Sean Michael Josef, my youngest grandchild, have put a smile on my face when I thought none was possible.
It is my wish that you celebrate your own memories and know that we are grateful to have you as part of our own. It is also my fervent hope that we can continue to help others who need our support so that they, too, can enjoy their own memories for years to come.
Have a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful Holiday,
“I’ve got a light that keeps on shining …” – Sean Costello