December 22,1972 was the 357th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There were nine days remaining until the end of the year. It was a Friday. My older brother and I were in the elevator, having just left our Dad’s bedside in the Intensive Care Unit. Our fellow passengers in the elevator were whispering about my Dad and how he had just died. In disbelief, my brother and I looked at each other, how could this news possibly be true. We went back to the ICU waiting room and found a few family friends praying and crying. Next thing I know, I’m lying with my head in the lap of my Mom’s best friend on the front seat of her car heading home. I guess my brother drove himself home.
A Harvard Medical study from 2012 states that December and January tend to be the deadliest of the year. Virtually all physiological processes have a circadian rhythm, meaning that they occur predominantly at certain parts of the day. There’s even a circadian rhythm of death, so that in general people tend to die in the morning hours, sometime around 11:00 AM is the average time.
I walked around our house that day in a fog, listening for my Dad’s car keys on the salver in the foyer, hanging up his coat, his happy words, “who-who””, I’m home.” I stopped to listen to the news report of my Dad’s death on the radio every half hour, still in disbelief. Our house was packed with people trying to be helpful and kind. One friend was cleaning out our fridge, she was holding Dad’s can of bacon grease looking confused. I explained the magical properties of that can, bacon grease instead of butter in gravies, sautéed vegetables, hash brown potatoes, and hamburgers. She gently put the can back on the shelf and continued to toss leftovers and condiments to make room for the plethora of casseroles and pies that had arrived.
Christmas was my Dad’s favorite time of the year. Early in December, plans were made and invitations were sent for the luncheon Curry Party. My Dad loved to cook and entertain. Curry was an art form in my family. The whole chickens were seasoned and stewed, the meat carefully removed. Each condiment painstakingly prepared by my Dad. The dozens of hard boiled eggs shredded by hand, the crispy bacon, the roasted and chopped peanuts, bananas in sweet cream, the toasted coconut, raisins, chopped tomatoes, and the most important; mango chutney.
The curry was served in the dining room from a shiny silver tureen. The condiments in tiny crystal bowls with miniature silver spoons or tongs for serving. Tables covered in white damask with red and white flower centerpieces and candelabra with red candles. A stack records in the stereo playing Christmas music, the fireplaces with beautiful blazing fires, the lights of the Christmas tree in the sunroom, and guests in their holiday finest, all a memory of our curry parties.
Dad’s funeral was on Christmas Eve, it was horribly beautiful in the church my Dad loved and helped to build. The organ played Onward Christian Soldiers and no one wore black, one dear friend wore red.
The house was finally quiet as we halfheartedly celebrated Christmas that year with gifts that had been forgotten in all the fuss. Each of us still in shock. I held my Grandmother’s hand as she murmured that children were not supposed to die before their parents. My mother had become a widow at 45, she was distracted by the massive responsibilities she now had on her plate, closing my Dad’s law practice, dealing with insurance, and raising four children alone.
I lived through that year and fifty more, I have happily decorated trees, cooked standing rib roasts and Yorkshire puddings, but a quiet shadow arrives and I find myself holding my breath. I check the calendar, it’s December 22.
Kate Emery General is a retired chef/restaurant owner that was born and raised in Casper, Wyoming. Kate loves her grandchildren, knitting and watercolor painting. Kate and her husband , Matt are longtime residents of Cambridge’s West End where they enjoy swimming and bicycling.