My son, Phillip, took this photo when he visited me in New York, back in 2009.
Today marks the first anniversary of his death. Over the past year, I’ve discovered many things about grief and about how awkward giving and receiving condolences can be.
People offer condolences and I reply, “Thank you.” People ask how I’m doing and I answer, “Fine.” Then, there’s that hush because…where do you go from there? Do I just carry on and start talking about the weather? A class I’m taking? My grandkids? Oops, I’ll never have any grandkids. So many taboo subjects now. Touchy, delicate subjects where there used to be none.
Right, it’s been a month since Phillip passed away. Four short weeks that feel like a lifetime. I’ve had lots of sympathy, condolences, notes, calls, offers of food, help, or companionship.
My friends, both Chilean and gringo, have rallied around, watched over me, and listened to my long-winded stories about Phillip, family, and everything in between. Mostly, I’ve just needed to talk about it. Whatever, “it” is. I am so grateful for their willing ears.
It’s been a strange time. I’ve had almost no energy. It’s slowly coming back, but very slowly. In a country where the party begins at 10pm, I’ve often been in bed, and asleep, by 9pm. I can’t make myself care about what I might be missing.
He called himself “Sid,” the kid I’d named Phillip thirty-four years ago.
He crawled at six months. He walked at nine. He made his first whole sentence at 18 months. In a restaurant in Fredericksburg, Texas, where trophy animal heads hung on the walls. “Me see moose.”
He was the boy who dragged home stray kittens and puppies. And wanted to keep them all. He was the one who loved bedtime stories from comic books. Snuggled together in the rocker, with his yellow baby blanket, we read page after page, night after night, until he was too big to fit on my lap.
‘Tis the season, so I was invited to a Christmas party last Saturday night. The invitation was for 6:00pm.
After living in Chile for almost four years, I sometimes forget that, in the US, it’s not okay to arrive at a dinner or a party really, really late. I was only running slightly late, about twenty minutes, but when I arrived, the party was in full swing. There were other stragglers who arrived after I had, but the majority of the guests had arrived on time.
Everyone brought a dish to share and the hosts had prepared food, too. The tables were groaning, heavy with ham, turkey, enchiladas, posole, vegetables, desserts. You name it, we had it.
Many of us did not already know each other. We got acquainted while nibbling appetizers. Then, around quarter to seven, one of the hosts announced that it was time to eat dinner. People began filling plates and finding places to sit where they could balance them on their knees.
About half an hour later, I began to notice something, an exodus. People who had finished eating started to leave the party. By 7:30, half the guests were out the door and, by eight o’clock when I left, there were only a few diehards still there. I was home by 8:30.
I had fun at the party, but when I told this story to my Spanish teacher Vivi, she was incredulous. ¿A las seis? Her eyes went wide when I told her the party had started at 6:00pm. They began to roll around when I told her that I was home by 8:30. I could read her thoughts. ¡Que fome!
First of all, in Chile, a party like this would never have started until at least 8:00, more likely 9:00 or 10:00. And even then, most people wouldn’t have shown up for another hour or so. They would not be ready to leave after only an hour and a half either. In fact, after an hour and a half, they might not have eaten yet and, even if they had, they would still linger long into the night.
After a Chilean party, the host might find their bed at 2:00 or 3:00 or 4:00am. Time well spent with family and long-time friends whom they had probably seen the week before.
Don’t ask which is my preference. With friends, all parties are fun, but if I had my druthers, I’d probably split the difference and have three- or four-hour parties. I wonder which country in the world does that.