We set up our Christmas tree the other day, and the way it worked was, my wife would hand me an ornament and me or the wolverine tornado (aka “toddler”) would place it on the tree, and she suddenly handed me an ornament that looked like a ring of antlers. And I said, “Didn’t Dad give this to us?” and she said, “No, we gave it to him the year that he died.” Oh, I thought, right, right.
My father died on December 22nd.
I don’t mean this year. Or even last year. This was six years back, so your condolences, while appreciated, are many moons beyond their required date.
Snow covered the ground. Ice in the trees. Blinky lights on all the houses and shiny bauble-hung trees in the windows.
And my father had prostate cancer. It had gone through him like raisins through a fruitcake and refused to be contained to the one place: the cancer had ambition, enough to kill him earlier than any of us expected, I think, even though we knew his life was suddenly on a short leash. We drove to see him on that day, the 22nd, just three days before Christmas, and while there on our visit his liver failed and his heart stopped and suddenly he was passing on to his happy hunting ground.
He died with my finger on his pulse. I felt it go. That’s a powerful and awful thing to feel—someone’s heartbeat suddenly slow, then stop.
A rum-pa-pum-pum, then—
I don’t bring this up to bring you down, but, you see, I think about death a lot. As a writer, death is part of my arsenal—it saturates my fiction the way the cancer got its claws in my father. I don’t know who said it, but someone far wiser than me said that all stories are about death and dying and I think that’s true, at least at the molecular level.
When Christmas rolls around, my death thoughts increase by at least an arbitrarily-made-up 46%.
This is, in part, because my father died around Christmas.
But that’s not all of it.
No, Christmas, it seems, is positively pendulous with death energy.
My father lost his father during Christmas, too—and so during that season he became more pensive and troubled, and many of the holidays were punctuated with that grim act of visiting my grandfather’s grave (a man I never met, a man who my father didn’t seem to like very much, and I’d watch him there looking at the grave trying to negotiate the repair of a relationship that could no longer be repaired, a feeling I am well-aware of now that my Dad has slipped away).
That’s the personal side, but you look past that, you can start to see death everywhere. Sure, sure, I know, Christmas is about birth, about the life of that guy whose name is right there in the holiday, but shit, that’s a ruse, isn’t it?
Christmas comes just as the seasons are turning. Just as the last leaves of life are falling off trees. Just as the ground goes cold and food becomes scarce and animals starve. Just as the white stuff starts to fall from the sky like ash—
And here I am tempted to make a dramatic overture about how it looks like the ash of my cremated father but the reality is, one’s cremated remains look a great deal more ‘kitty litter’ than ‘mortal ash.’ When the time comes to “spread ones ashes” it feels more like “flinging kitty litter” and you wonder if passersby might ask why you’re tossing aquarium gravel into the lake, you weirdo.
But I digress.
Christmas is death-flavored.
Christmas is the birth of a guy whose ending we know is to die brutally.
Christmas is when we chop down a perfectly good tree and stand its corpse in our living room to decorate like a clown before its needles turn brown and fall.
Christmas is when we kiss underneath the mistletoe, the poison that Loki uses to tip the arrow that he shoots into Balder’s eye to kill him.
Christmas is all the color leeching out of the landscape until the dark earth is peppered in white and gray, the forest like bones, the sky the color of a headstone.
Christmas is a stone’s throw from the shortest day and the longest night.
Christmas is when we lose our fathers. Or our mothers. Or when we remember those who came before and will no longer share in the meal, or the gifts, or the warmth of the fire meant to ward off cold nights.
It’s a bit theatrical, of course, to suggest that Christmas is death. Or that its jolly façade hides grim and sinister trappings.
But again, I’m a writer. It’s how I do.
More to the point, this is a good – if entirely shameless – time to mention that I have a book perfectly well-suited for all these aforementioned grim and sinister trappings. Because my favorite cantankerous psychic, Miriam Black, is back—a character born out of my own frustrations and fears about death, a character who now, in The Cormorant, takes a little vacation away from all the wintry Christmastime doldrums to head down to the Florida Keys where she is drawn into a trap. A trap where she expects to be paid handsomely to tell a man about his death but instead finds a message written to her in the man’s blood, a message from an unknown enemy that reads, Hello, Miriam…
Read the book and you should follow the bouncing Santa Hat.
Because no book starring Miriam Black is complete without her killing Santa Claus, am I right?
I think I am.
Please to enjoy the book.
And Merry Christmas, or whatever holiday you find warms your dry thatch of a heart in this dark, lifeless, death-soaked time.