There’s always another milestone. First there was Thanksgiving. I was fortunate to have so many friends who wanted to have me join their family celebration. But it wasn’t the same. There was laughter and merriment by all, but for me, it was just a thin veneer cloaking my broken and sad heart.
It made me remember all our Thanksgivings that came before. I remember the first in our new home: we had twelve guests for dinner and I was making stuffed Cornish hens so everyone could have white and dark meat and their own stuffing. However, my wonderful Aga Oven decided not to cooperate. It refused to hold its heat.
In a mad rush to save my dinner, Philip piled a tray upon his lap and rolled his wheelchair up and down the block with tiny, stuffed hens to three separate neighbors to cook them! He was quite an adorable spectacle: Hawaiian shirt, a wooden tray across his lap and piles of hens rolled down the street. He succeeded in getting them all in neighbor’s ovens when alas, our oven changed its mind and became toasty warm.
Back again the hens came on Philip’s lap and they finished cooking to a golden brown with succulent meat cooked to perfection. It was a harrowing hour or more before this chef could breathe a sigh of relief.
He never flustered; rarely lost his cool; smiled and joked through all of life’s most taunting escapades. Not even years later when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He took it in his stride. He always amazed me.
The milestones continued. There was Christmas, always such a wonderful holiday that up until now filled me with little girl excitement and anticipation. But this Christmas was different. It was void the man who made it magical. He got such joy out of my delight. Growing up in a Jewish home, I was thirty when I had my first Christmas tree. Tongue ‘n cheek, it became our Chanukah Bush so not to offend my family.
Oh, how I remember that first Christmas. We went tree picking and Philip let me pick my favorite. It was perfect in every way. We had to enlist an able-bodied friend to bring the tree in the house and sit it in its stand, but after that it was in my domain. Because I had never had a tree before Philip invited about 4 couples to come over and show me the “ropes”.
It wasn’t long before the experts took their seats and watched me with my childlike exuberance decorate the tree. In actuality, I hadn’t realized that one by one they sat down to watch: that I was the show! The tree was magnificent, a true manifestation of my imagination and sense of grandeur with perfect little white doves everywhere, blue lights for Chanukah of course, bows handmade by me. It was so much fun and it was beautiful. Philip beamed as a proud beau!
The only other time I had decorated a Christmas tree was in the 5th grade. My teacher, Catherine D. Malone, (they named the school after her and I credit her, too, for teaching me the art of penmanship) let all the Jewish children decorate the tree. It so happened that in that class, in that year, we were the majority. I remember hanging a piece of tinsel, but nothing else!
This Christmas I didn’t put up a tree or even take out my wonderful collection of Christmas décor, especially my angels. I didn’t even turn on the radio or play a disc of holiday cheer. Cheer was the furthest from my mind and heart. I splurged and bought myself a beautiful pair of citrine earrings. Philip would have bought them for me if he had been here. Somehow, it didn’t feel quite the same. But I brought them home exquisitely wrapped just to have something to unwrap.
That first Christmas I learned that Philip talked in his sleep. What I didn’t know was that I could have carried on a conversation with him – that he would have answered me! There I lay next to him when I heard him giggle and announce: “I bought you such a gift!”
On Christmas Eve we’d open our gifts at the strike of midnight because I could never wait until Christmas morning to give my gifts and to open mine. For me, the best part, the part I loved the most, was giving gifts. It rivaled being the recipient any day. But that first Christmas was enchanted. Everything about it was as if a fairy-tale had come to life. For me, it truly was splendiferous.
He sent me on a treasure hunt. I remember opening a huge box just to find another box inside to unwrap, box after box after box until voilà’ a little piece of paper giving me a hint to my next prize location. It took the better part of the evening before I was directed to a tiny little vault and hints for the combination…and when I opened it I found the tiniest, teeniest little diamond ring I’ve ever seen, and it was magnificent! I loved it more than any other bauble he ever bought me. And my Philip was like a little boy who just got the best present in the world for his love! I shall never forget his glee.
The milestones continued. Then there was New Year’s and I made plans to be away. First, I considered a cruise for singles because I didn’t want to be in the company of loving, hugging couples. Eventually, I decided against this notion after a dear friend strongly suggested that I wasn’t ready for the cruise I envisioned. Then I decided on a long weekend away with a girlfriend.
We planned on going to beautiful Savannah and Charleston, S.C., but as the best laid plans of mice and men this too fell apart. At the very last moment my friend had an emergency that required her attention and I ended up remaining home, alone and in bed asleep by 8:30 in the evening. It wouldn’t be the first time this occurred, but in the past Philip was always on the next pillow and all I’d have to do was put my breath near his and he would awake with a passionate kiss. Hmm, I miss those days…and nights so very much.
Yesterday marked nine months since he left my side, our bed, our home and it was not a good milestone. Every day that moves onward moves him further from my grasp and I don’t want time to move forward. I look around me and my beautiful home that he alone gave me, and filled it with everything I ever wanted. It now seems so very empty.
The next milestone looms darkly near: September 18th will mark one year since his passing. I’m planning a trip abroad with a dear friend. I also still have his ashes I want to scatter. I had planned on taking a hot air balloon ride with his closest male friends. Philip would have liked that. He loved the heights; he’d love the ride. He had an idea years ago about starting a business that would fill a balloon with ashes of the deceased that would be released to the skies above to burst when it reached a certain altitude allowing the ashes to scatter where they may.
But, now I’m leaning toward a boat ride out to sea that would permit more of his friends to be included and those of us fearful of heights would be less inclined to feel sick. I do plan to take some of his ashes to Italy, the land of his ancestors, although Philip never made it there. He always wanted to, along with seeing the China Wall up close and personal, and he wanted to sail on a Chinese Junk Ship. It always fascinated him.
He left so much undone. In the end, none of it mattered. It was the life that mattered; it was the heart of the man; his ability to see what you thought no one could see. Philip was a precious man who lived a precious life. He personified love; he gave it unconditionally, without question, without guile. He was a pure soul and he has left his mark upon me, upon all of us touched by him, and by his good works left behind.