The Middle Ages: With tears like tinsel, we’re reminded: Without grief, there can be no joy

The bigger arrangements sit on tripods around the fireplace. It looks like the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

The church was packed and our hearts were hollow. My mind wanders on all occasions, and halfway through the memorial I realized that my late wife was more than a mother; she was our religion. All mothers are.

That gave me a moment’s peace.

A wonderful reception followed, and slowly our hearts will begin to mend. Too slowly, if you ask me. But mend they will.

What worries people now are signs of obvious physical decay: the forgotten packages spilling around the mailbox, the kid wearing two different shoes to school.


Of course, friends have rallied. A secret Santa dropped off the eggnog I was missing, and Bittner brought a ginormous roast beast. One mom keeps bringing lunch to the little guy. If we don’t survive this, the obvious reason: Our bellies exploded.

Vegas bookies are now offering odds on our immediate future. By Tuesday, we are supposed to run out of underwear. By Friday, we’ll be out of towels.

“Everything can wait a day.” That’s what my pal Siskin tells me, and he is sort of a Buddha about life, full of West Coast Zen. Then the 300-pound beagle got sick.

So, no, not everything can wait a day, dude.

Task one: the cards and flowers.

I have opened so many sympathy cards that I have paper cuts up and down my hands. I look like a person who shaves cats for a living.

Thank you. I guess grief is lots of invisible little cuts.

“She was so real. I loved her so damn much,” her friend Kerry writes, which might be the best mini-eulogy ever.

The sympathy cards are now mixing with the holiday cards. That’s stirring and odd, since the Christmas cards often have photos of beautiful families, and ours is so busted right now.


The irony could eat me up. But I keep thinking of something William Hurt once said.

“You cut off the capacity for grief in your life,” the estimable actor said, “and you cut off the joy at the same time. They both come up through the same tunnel.”

So send the photos, send the cards. Grieve. Dance.

The cards are spectacular, as are the flowers. The bigger arrangements sit on tripods around the fireplace. It looks like the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.

For the record, I quit drinking Tuesday, started again on Wednesday, quit on Thursday, and so on. People keep bringing giant bottles of holiday hooch, as if I’m stuck in a snowdrift and can’t get out.

Technically, that is pretty close.

The drinking was going very well till the 300-pound beagle got sick. Maintaining a dog like this is like caring for a very leaky old yacht.

With a million better things to do, we race the beagle to the vet, who mutters a bunch of things about thyroids and further tests.

“You can catch a urine sample with a soup ladle,” the vet suggests.

No, I can’t.

Then one night the little guy gets sick too, his first illness without his dear mom.

I treat him with buttered pasta and a wonderful old Clint Eastwood movie, in which Eastwood plays a pastor-gunfighter, a handy American skill set.


There’s the memorable scene where Eastwood takes off his preacher’s collar and picks up his six-shooter, and slays every evil he encounters. As with every Eastwood movie, there’s a heavy-handed messiah theme.

Yep, Eastwood works alone, though a sidekick shows up suddenly to save him from a sniper.

That’s kind of how I see me and the little guy. I’ve got his back, he has mine. Together, we’ll slay every evil. I mean, we’ve already seen a few.

Task two: Survive the holidays.

I went online the other morning, and the retailer was out of most sizes — which pretty much sums up every digital alternative I ever try.

Tip to online retailers: If you sell holiday sweaters for a living, stock up in December.

Meanwhile, the house shimmers with Christmas, thanks to my daughters and niece, though we hung a few ornaments with paper clips when we ran out of hooks.

Posh would be appalled, the paper clips ruining her sense of a Hallmark holiday, which she struggled so hard to accomplish.

Nothing’s perfect. Not this house. Not this family. Not this Christmas.

Not without her, certainly. And not without our wickedly funny late son.


So I guess we’re pretty much all newborns this season, our tears dripping like tinsel.

But those cuts on my hands? The paper cuts remind me of some greater gifts — family and amazing friends.

And the wails of newborns?

Our heartache, our Christmas hymn.

Twitter: @erskinetimes