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.

not sure what he was planning on doing with that ice, but, whatever it was, he thought it was pretty funny

Update: Here’s the post.

12 thoughts on “rituals

  1. Hi Crystal,
    You should know that you’re not talking to yourself. Your stories, photos and writings about Mason are what we look forward to. Joe and I have laughed and cried (Im always the one crying) when we read these post. Since we can not look forward to Mason coming back in or calling, we look forward to his name being mentioned by anyone, anytime about anything. We chat about him often as though he’s just a phone call away. Never stop sharing these memories. I will look forward to them always.

  2. On this cold morning while searching for something warm to wear I picked out a fine cashmere sweater that once belonged to Mason out. It’s a really nice sweater one that surely would cost a day of my salary and one that I wouldn’t normally wear to work in fact the only other time I’ve worn it I was on vacation. But then I looked up at the 6′ closet rod his clothes take up in my closet and way too many of them were never worn which pauses me to ponder. I put the sweater on and took a look in the mirror and chuckle to myself he would have said something like “your stretching out the neck hole with your bulbous head Costanza.” We were the same size and often when I would come down to spend the weekend with him he would loan me shirts before going out because my work wear was often boots and jeans work wear. He would always pepper the loan with tiny insults to make sure I didn’t think he was being too nice. I saw through it. Moral of this rambling story: is if you have that fine cashmere sweater in the back of your closet and your saving it for a special day today is that day and so is tomorrow. Because if you don’t someday your younger brother may have it and he will surely stretch the hole out with his bulbous head.

    P.S- He would have made this sweater look better…..and I do have a bulbous head.

  3. Crystal, you won’t be talking only to yourself. Mason’s life had far-reaching effects and many of us out there appreciate your posts. Keep the ritual alive.

  4. I think it’s important to make a distinction between rituals and traditions. Rituals are generally used as a representative way to remember and honor an event or person and are an important cultural touchstone, while traditions tend to be a codified way of doing things formulated at a specific time for specific reasons and then practiced continually until they become “the way things are done.” I believe that all traditions should be constantly examined and re-evaluated for relevance and necessity. For example, are traditional Judaic dietary laws really applicable to our modern times, with readily available refrigeration and sanitation? But, if we were to change the way the food is prepared, that doesn’t mean that the ritual of the Passover Seder would also have to end.

    I’ve told you before, it sounds like I would have really enjoyed hanging out with Mason, especially if he was even half as much a cool, nerdy, smartassed, dork as his big sis.

  5. Crystal, I don’t know you or your family but I am honored to read what you choose to share about them and the family rituals that you follow to honor your brother. I lost my best friend, my Mom and finally my Dad all in the month of December. I am always happy to see the calender turn to January 1st, but I have my own rituals to remember them in the best way and know that those three contributed much to the person, husband, father, man, I am today.
    Thank you for this post and allowing me to think of them.

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