It’s Not The Weight You Carry, But How You Carry It
by Robert Zucker
As my cousin Anselm approached his death from AIDS, he wrote detailed instructions for his own private memorial dinner. According to plan, following the funeral, a group of Anselm’s closest friends and family members were to go directly to a friend’s Manhattan apartment.
We crowded around a large table weighed down with casseroles, stews, traditional dishes, elaborate salads, and all sorts of desserts. My cousin Carroll, who prepared the meal for Anselm, invited us to read the 3 by 5 cards she’d placed in front of every dish. Handwritten by Anselm, each card told a story that was inspired by a particular dish. As I recall, they were love stories of sweet memories, mostly about his beloved mother, Miriam, who died about fifteen years earlier. Throughout that unforgettable evening, guided by Anselm and Carroll, we all ate, drank, reminisced, laughed, celebrated and mourned the great loss of a dear friend.
Now, in the middle of a pandemic, social distancing has dramatically changed our family landscape, and we would probably be hard-pressed to imagine pulling off a communal gathering like the one I’ve just described. Like with AIDS, Covid 19 has created its own set of challenges – how we care for loved ones young and old, educate our children, perform our jobs, mourn our losses and gather as a family.
I’ve recently been reflecting on the lessons I learned from Anselm and Carroll. Anselm taught me that even death offers opportunities for selfless giving. That certain foods carry rich and meaningful stories that nourish our bodies and our hearts. That by thinking outside the box, we might discover how to express our love, even under the most difficult circumstances. That if you can’t fulfill your vision alone, then try asking someone you love to help you. And Carroll reminded me of the meaning of friendship and loving-kindness.
This year, our fall and winter holy days carry an indescribable weight. I’m reminded of these lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, Heavy:
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it –
books, brick, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot and would not put it down.”
So here’s a challenge for us all: Let’s try thinking outside the box. My partner Teresa Weybrew (www.healthroughlove.com) and I have brainstormed a list of creative strategies for living well during the coming holidays. Keep in mind that our families can be biological and/or chosen. And remember that grief during the holidays can be particularly painful, so be gentle and kind to yourselves and your loved ones if you’re grieving the death of someone you love. You may want to check out this article in the Huffington Post where I offered advice on holiday grief during another very stressful period in our country. See https://www.huffpost.com/entry/grief-and-loss-holidays_n_2346372.
Teresa and I had fun putting together this list. We hope you’ll add your own creative ideas in your comments. May we all walk together with grace, humor, wisdom, and loving-kindness as our guide.
Here’s our list:
* Have a virtual potluck holiday meal: Make a double-sized holiday dish and bring a share to your local family or friend. Invite them to do the same for you. If you like, set-up a zoom call and enjoy your meal together.
* Ship or deliver a favorite or traditional non-perishable item to a friend or members of your family, along with a story you’ve written of a particular holiday memory.
* Send photographs of past holidays and celebrations to friends or loved ones.
* Make a photo book of past holiday memories.
* Start a new tradition or a spin-off on an old tradition associated with the holiday, and invite others to participate.
* Invite everyone you love to create something representing an upcoming holiday, using art supplies, photos, poetry, etc. Send your creation or a copy of it, to each individual or each family group that would normally be together at the table. Consider including photos of loved ones who have died.
* Gift of Hope: Send seed packets to loved ones as a symbol of hope and renewal and abundance. Plant the seeds in the spring and remember later to share photos of your produce.
* Send candles to one another and plan to light them at a designated time. Perhaps zoom a communal candle lighting.
* Play a game on zoom, e.g. trivia, karaoke, Bananagrams
* Send out a picture of each of your family members or of those in your group of friends. Invite everyone to use the photo to create their vision of a typical holiday – when you were all together. Perhaps include particular memories, e.g. Grandpa sleeping on the couch, someone who is always in the kitchen, everyone together at the table. Have fun. If zooming, email pictures of your creations to your zoom host who can screen share them with everyone.