Globes of Red and Ritual
Globes of Red and Ritual
by Katie Huey
On an ordinary Thursday evening we sat in my small kitchen, sharing food and laughter as dusk turned to darkness behind my sliding glass door. The last dinner I ate with my father included three of his hearty favorites — bloody steak, green salad, and a baked potato dripping with butter.
After we ate, Dad and I did the dishes, taking turns dipping our hands into the sudsy sink to wash away dinner’s remnants. Dad took a red wine goblet out against the metal tub, accidentally cracking the rim. As he lifted the glass, large shards broke away, leaving him holding a stem with half a globe. A set of four suddenly became a set of three.
I told Dad to not worry about the mistake. Crate and Barrel is always stocked with more. He promised to buy me a new one next week.
The promise never was fulfilled, because there was no next week. Dad died, unexpectedly, the next day. Our family of five turned to four overnight. There were many shards to pick up in the suds.
Time has a way of marching on, wobbling at times in a disconcerting sway. As I began to develop my grief legs, I was told about the milestones I’d come to and how important ritual would be to my recovery process.
When the year anniversary approached I was asked by multiple people, “How will you mark the day? Do you have any traditions?”
“Traditions?” I thought. “Doesn’t it take repetition to build a tradition? How many years do you have to do something in a row for it to count as a tradition?”
In pursuit of an answer to my own wondering, and a sense of obligation to grieve correctly, I gathered with friends from my grief group. Squished around a dining room table with goblets of red, I asked for advice. Wise women reminded me to do what feels good. Ceremony or not, the day of his death doesn’t have to be marked by darkness. There is no guide book for this part of life after loss.
On the first year anniversary, I gave myself the permission to say, “I think I’ll try this, just for this year.” I went to Dunkin’ Donuts, selected three, and left the greasy bag in the park next to the lake where Dad taught me to ice skate when ponds still froze over in January.
I’ve now had a few years to practice. While I’ve gotten a bit more creative, with each approaching death day, the marbled weights of worry and wonder fill up my shoes, dragging me down with the fear of what honoring should look like. The pressure to create meaning while honoring his absence swallows me up into dark pits of guilt.
* * *
In 2020, the anniversary of Dad’s death approached a week after lockdowns first began in the U.S. I was afraid to drive three miles to the Dunkin Donuts to get a chocolate with sprinkles. I made waffles at home instead. This year, the five year milestone was marked with isolation. A surprise delivery of gourmet donuts from a friend arrived at my door a la Door Dash and accompanying texts of support buzzed in .... Dad would have said the maple and bacon was excessive. His preferred donut was plain glaze. Nothing fancy.
The gifts of sugar, carbs, and smears of frosting brought him into my space. I wept by myself and went to work behind Zoom screens, waiting for the day to be over.
Both grief and the pandemic continue to teach me I can’t control much. I can, however, choose to do what feels good. The threads connecting my intention to honor his life and integrate his memory into my living, present tense, always surprise me. Remembering him must take place on more than one day of the year.
Often, these small ceremonies include hunks of red meat with a side of fries and blue cheese to dip them in. Or an extra black cup of coffee left on my desk to grow cold while I wait for him to absorb the steam. I’ve marked mornings with fingers of shortbread and tumblers of whiskey on the piano. I’ve toasted with cold beer, pouring Colorado craft beer onto sand and pebbles where he used to hike.
Ritual does not have to mean repetition.
I play his favorite songs when I’m working. Baseball makes good background noise for a Saturday afternoon. Drinking coffee from his mug is an easy way to sip in his essence on an ordinary Thursday morning. Whether I’m pouring red wine, sinking my hands into a sudsy sink to do dishes, or slicing into steak, maybe my dad is there with me.
I raise my glass of red to toast to ritual. Here’s to trying. Here’s to creating ways to remember, and here’s to you, too. Perhaps, the magic lives in our choice to witness and welcome in whatever way feels good. Cheers.