Unfortunately, we can often lose focus on the part where the holidays are supposed to be fun; instead, we might pile on expectations so high we feel like a human Jenga tower. Or is that just me?
Around the county, there are food drives to make sure local at-risk families have enough to eat, toy drives run by firefighters and churches, and then there’s the kids. It’s safe to say many humans under the age of 12 are amped up with the prospect of endless sugar, school vacation and presents. However, it’s also a notoriously stressful time for many, especially if it’s the first time going through the holidays without a loved one.
For me, the change of personnel (via death, divorce, moving) is felt most deeply as I unpack holiday decorations. There’s the ceramic mini Starbucks cup that brings back my standing date with Lisa Bacino as we waited to drop off our girls at Tamalpais Preschool (now they are off to college); the one-legged glass ballet dancer (tape never held); and the elegant handmade beaded bulbs a great-grandmother made for her tree nearly a century ago in San Francisco. And finally there’s the pine wreath from Mrs. Z at St. Hilary school. I even have a gorgeous porcelain nativity scene I erect every year in honor of my grandmother, as well as one made out of coconuts and shells from Hawaii, not because I am religious, I’m not, but because it brings back a deep sense of peace and belonging. Basically, every ornament or knickknack connects me to loved ones.
The topic of death surprised me this summer at a lovely lunch hosted by my friend Paige Peterson. I usually don’t take the time for lunch on a weekend, but if you get an invite to one of Paige’s, say yes. One time I sat next to Jay Levy and casually learned he had discovered the AIDS virus, and another time I was seated next to Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who climbed up onto the back of JFK’s car after he had been shot. It’s that kind of table.
At this particular meal, I sat with the Jampolskys, Jerry and Diane, frequent contributors to the magazine, including in a feature in this issue. The topic of dying came up out of the blue, and I squirmed. I didn’t want to mention that my precious dog had died the day before (huge kudos to all at San Rafael’s Pet Emergency, who made the process of letting go so gentle and loving). At lunch, sitting there in the benign beauty of a Belvedere garden, I couldn’t breathe. “This sucks,” I thought, looking for an exit.
However, I got out of my head and listened to Diane tell stories, smiling, about patients she and Jerry had worked with during the AIDS pandemic, how they trained not only the doctors but family members and entire hospital staffs to view death without so much fear or judgment. That allowed both the Jampolskys and their dying patients to have peace of mind as their main goal and be open to the soul’s next adventure. Death is not an ending, Diane emphasized that day at the table; it’s a beginning. Absorbing this perspective, I felt a deep comfort despite our family’s loss of a treasured pet, followed by gratitude for the 12-plus years we’d spent with this creature on the planet together.
I asked the Jampolskys if they would share their experiences and findings with our readers. They agreed, and we settled on the November issue for their story, in honor of the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. And it didn’t hurt that it would also be a nice message for those starting the holiday season without a departed loved one. As we start this holiday season, let’s all lift a glass and toast those souls who have shaped our lives and are no longer with us — and then let’s make another toast to the Restofus.
Mimi Towle, Editor
Photo courtesy of Blink Inc.