Rituals are important. They help mark the meaningful moments in life, and they’re a good barometer of the passage of time. New Year’s = new beginnings. The 4th of July = summertime. Halloween = the start of the holiday season. Rituals help break the year into phases. They give us the chance to look forward and back in a way that doesn’t happen as much on a random Tuesday.
Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of my brother Mason’s death. Each year, the first thing I do on December 7 is start thinking about the post I’ll write that day for Remembering Mason. The site never turned into the repository of stories about Mason that I’d hoped it would. But, rituals are important. So I keep posting there two or three times a year, even though I mostly feel like I’m talking to myself.
For that annual post, I think of all the things Mason missed out on over the previous 12 months. I reflect on the many times I thought to call him, to share something he would find funny or infuriating. The impulse to pick up the phone only lasts for a microsecond. Then the wave comes crashing over my head. The wave that reminds me. He’s gone.
It’s amazing that you can know a thing, deep in your soul, but you can still be surprised by it.
In The Year of Magical Thinking, a book about losing her husband, Joan Didion wrote:
Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.
Those first couple of years, every time I found myself telling someone Mason was gone, I felt like I was crazy. That surely I’d lost my mind because my vibrant younger brother most certainly was alive and well. Ends up, it’s pretty common to think that someone who died might come back any minute. Walk right through that door. Not as a ghost. As a real, whole person. As the person they were the last time you saw them with life in their eyes. Maybe it’s the brain’s way of easing you into the new reality.
All this to say, I’m going to write that post tomorrow. Just as I’ll keep posting here, even after the lights have been turned off and everyone’s gone home. Because rituals are important, and sometimes you have to leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs.
Update: Here’s the post.