The first big celebration without Christopher was his 23rd birthday. He was killed March 21st (1996) and born in May 15th (1974)–I still get them mixed up because they are both so significant to me (both starting with M – doesn’t help). We were all so unsure what to do to celebrate his birthday without him present. In the end, we did what we always had done when he was with us–a large group of us went to his favorite restaurant, Benihana. We made sure we had enough people to have our own table and chef. We did not know how our grief would act. We all felt better doing something Christopher loved and which was a family tradition. It is so much easier for me to acknowledge the “elephant in the room” than to pretend it is not there, so we toasted to his special day and felt he would be happy we were all together. I can’t remember for how many consecutive years we followed this particular tradition. Now it has evolved to include other restaurants where we went together as a family, and sometimes even cooking Christopher’s favorite foods at home.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is always held at our home. We have always invited anyone we know who does not have family close by or family to celebrate the holiday with. I cook the main body of the meal, which includes the turkey, cranberry relish–which I make a month in advance with my “mother on earth” (my biological mother passed away three days after Christopher was born)–homemade bread, yams (with marshmallows of course), mashed potatoes, string bean casserole (fresh), gravy and Christopher’s favorite orange jell-o dish. Our four daughters (three delightfully through marriage) bring stuffing, ham, carrot soufflé and desert. A dear friend sends us a stilton cheese from England every year, which keeps everyone going until dinner is served. After dinner we play games. Gary (now my husband) plays the role of croupier and everyone has their favorite game. We play bingo, roulette, table soccer, Apples to Apples and Chase the Ace. All pennies won go to the Food Bank.
The first Thanksgiving we set a place for Christopher at the table. My three sisters came from the Seattle area, along with my niece. We had more family present than usual, helping us to feel surrounded by love. The cooking and family guests were welcome distractions from painful grief. You may be surprised, that I still looked forward–-no matter how sad I was—to the cooking and the family gathering. The house seemed to swirl with the entire “getting ready” for the meal and setting the tables for the celebration. At dinner we told funny stories about Christopher. He had an unusual talent of being able to balance a spoon on his nose. Family members would try to do it and couldn’t –mostly because everyone was laughing so hard. At restaurants when Christina and Christopher were small and would get wiggly, I would order them Roy Rogers and Shirley Temples and then challenge them to tie the cherry stem in a knot (it can be done – I am the champ of this).
Telling these stories worked! They brought Christopher into the room with us.
I always gather people in the kitchen right before we eat and do a blessing, with words of wisdom from the year. This is what I said in 1996 (I am not sure where I stole the words from.)
May the longtime sun shine upon you,
all the love surround you,
and the pure light within you,
guide your way on.
May the longtime sun shine upon us,
all the love here surround us,
and the pure light within us,
guide us on our way.
May the sunshine reach those not with us,
all our love surround them,
and the pure light within them,
guide us along our way.
Here is “Christopher’s” favorite Orange Jell-O Recipe
- One small package Orange Jell-O
(You can use a large package and double every thing if you need more)
- 1 large can mandarin oranges – juice reserved
- 1 cup fresh whipping cream – whipped
- 6 ice cubes
Drain oranges well and reserve the liquid. Dissolve the jell-o in half the recommended liquid from the package. When well dissolved add the juice from the oranges and the ice cubes (you may have to fish out small ice cube bits). Put half the jell-O in the dish you are going to serve it in and the other half in any bowl. Chill until semi-hard (maybe 15-20 minutes). The any bowl jell-O gets mixed with the whipped cream and gently laid on top of the serving dish jell-O. Make a design on top with the oranges…I always make a heart.
Christopher called me every year to make sure I remembered to make “his jell-O.” When I realized he would not be calling me about this ever again, it was very difficult for me. I don’t need reminding; I will make it for him as long as I am able.
Here is the fresh Cranberry Relish:
- 1 Bag fresh cranberries
- 2 oranges – one peeled and one not – cut in pieces (*to fit in your grinder/processer)
- 2 red apples (crisp) one peeled and one not – cut in pieces*
- 2 cups sugar (we never use this much – do it to taste)
Grind in meat grinder (large hole) or food processer and add sugar to taste.
Make three weeks in advance and stir once a week.
We make lots – we have a list of people who want it each year. We do about eight times the recipe.
My “mother on earth” was dear friends with Imogen Cunningham and this recipe came from her.
Over the years, our place setting for Christopher has evolved to a candle dedicated to him and more recently a candle for “all those who are not with us.”
Here are a few more blessings we have said to mark Thanksgiving:
This Thanksgiving we can all sigh with great relief. The great legal battle is over. We can now concentrate on our lives and our loved ones. Make this next year great; be good to yourself and others. Let the memories of our beloved Christopher perfume our lives with sweet smiles and stories.
If there is any kindness I can show or any good thing I can do for any fellow being, let me do it now, and not deter or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again. (William Penn)
Joy is not in things; it is in us. (Richard Wagner)
I would like to give Thanksgiving this year to all of you. We are a very fortunate family. We love; we care and are there for each other. We must be. It is the greatest gift you can give yourself, family and friends. Never take any one or anything for granted. I love you all.
We all sang – “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.
I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world
This year I am grateful. I am grateful for the balance between bitter and sweet. We have had many challenges this year – serious medical challenges and we have lost two family members. And, we have had joy to celebrate – a marriage, an engagement and a baby on the way. Most of all I am grateful for the love of all of you. Happy Thanksgiving and every day.
As for Christmas and Chanukah, they have always evoked confusion in my life. When I was twelve I went to visit my father for a year in New York, after living with my mother before this. Things were very different in New York; I was used to California. I also discovered I was Jewish; something my mother, who felt we should discover “our own God,” never bothered to mention. This “Jewish” revelation is when “holiday confusion” set in.
Christmas was lovely and simple growing up–a beautiful tree decorated with glass ornaments and beads which had been treasured by our mother. We all decorated the tree together, with a lot of practiced method. And we all received one present. That is just how it was.
Years passed and I settled on the ‘do both” method (still very limited presents). We celebrated Christmas at home and Chanukah with dear friends
Early Christmas morning, the family would gather at my house. Christopher loved to dress up as Santa Claus. He would put a pillow in his tummy, grab a Santa hat, don a white beard and pass out all the presents. My sister Kristin traditionally made blintzes, served with strawberry jam and sour cream. When she moved away, I took over the cooking tradition.
The first Christmas, I wrote my first holiday letter–ever! I felt people had been so kind to support and love us through such tragedy that I needed to let them know what was going on in our lives.
“Dearest friends and family,
My first wish is to thank you all for being there for us in what has been a very difficult year. The loss of Christopher has changed our lives forever. I also feel that the love of my friends and family during this hard time has changed my life forever in a very wonderful way. It is a difficult way to find out what a loved person you are. I have never written a holiday letter before. I wanted to write each one of you to catch up on what has been happening in our lives.
First……all the good news. We are all healthy and happy (working on happier!). We have many pleasant moments mixed with some sad, but very positive about life. It seems like grief is three steps ahead, one back; and the back step seems to be tied to legal events (update coming). Gary I have decided to merge households!!! For those of you who do not know, we are going steady forever; and I have a stunning ring to celebrate it. Gay will be moving in early 1997 and selling or renting his home. Christina is going to school and will be moving into her own apartment in early January. Paul is doing well, looking very svelte and a wonderful supportive brother as always. Bettina is moving back to San Francisco, her true love city. She loves her new job. Marc and Tabasco (cat) have moved to Napa to be closer to Marc’s job. Everyone from Washington is doing great. Everyone was here for Thanksgiving. It cheered us up to be with them. Alphie (dog) and Cinnamon (cat) are cut as ever.
The legal side of Christopher’s murder is very difficult to manage emotionally. When you are in the courtroom, it is another case number and there is no sense of anything personal. We expect the beginning of the trial to be sometime in April 1997. So far we have had a preliminary hearing and trial setting that has been put over twice. The trail is not a question of “who had done it,” but, what the sentence will be. The murderer is out on bail. Christina says”it is not right that he is with his family for the holidays and we don’t have Christopher.” When the trial actually starts we will want to have people there. Until that time, it is too unpredictable to ask people to attend. We must also make decisions about civil suits. It is important to us, that they listen to the next child.
I feel very good in saying that we are fortunate people with lots of wonderful things in our lives to live for. I am keeping positive thoughts in the forefront and getting stronger for the legal road. I know Christopher is up there saying…….
“Hey dudes/dudettes…chill….have a rad time and I love yas!”
Happy Holidays to all of you! Love from our house to yours! Radha
The first year, I didn’t think I could face Christopher’s not being “Santa.” I asked my brother if we could go away as a family, and we did. We all flew from our different home locations and met in Arizona. We left on Christmas morning, which is a wonderful time to fly. We had Christmas dinner at our hotel. I brought a small decorated Christmas tree and a candle to light for Christopher. And of course the “Santa” hat.
We agreed ahead of time to exchange names and buy one present, with a spending limit ($75). We also inaugurated a “White Elephant” present exchange, which can get very loud and silly. It has become a favorite part of our celebration. Many of the “white elephants” get left at the restaurant. And every year one “elephant” is voted the funniest of all. One year the honor went to a tall white cat-toilet-brush–holder, which our waiter said his “girlfriend would love!”
This Christmas time away is one tradition that changed–and began–with Christopher’s death. The only difference over the years is that we now leave on December 26th, so everyone can spend time with other family too. This family Christmas vacation has become a new tradition. It is a gift that came with Christopher’s death. He brought our family closer than we were before.