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In lieu of magic, layers

“I’m not doing the pepparkakor this year, I can’t,” I said, and everyone in the family had different reactions. My mother asked if I wanted her to do them. (No. Dad and I were the only ones who ate them really, and I only ate one. Throwing away a batch of pepparkakor minus one would be so much worse.) But Timprov said, “But you’re still doing the lussekatter, right? I think we all need them.”

Yes. I still did the lussekatter.

We all still do need them.

We need them a lot this year.

It’s been unseasonably cold early here in Minnesota–we’ve had January-typical temperatures starting in November–which is the pathetic fallacy if I’ve ever seen it. It’s so much colder this year. The world is so much colder. Well. Yes. I’ve been standing in front of the oven when I take bread out, letting the residual heat dissipate directly into me. I’ve been wearing layers early–I think my long-sleeved shirts got about three days of time on their own before it was constant sweaters, fleeces, everything in layers.

Those of you who have been coming around a lot know that Christmas Eve day was always my time for just me and my dad. This year I’m making up a new bread recipe, an apricot chocolate babka, which is based on a plain chocolate babka that uses up basically every dish in the house and totally demolishes the kitchen, but with *even more* layers of decadent goodness. And effort. And mess. (Christmas dinner is not at my house.) I’m going to do that rather than having someone try to be Substitute Dad, rather than trying to recreate the old plans without Dad who was so central to them. So there are going to be two sets of special bread in this month, and I think I need both.

It’s a lot of work, though. Fighting through the dark in hopes that there will be light again somewhere if we just keep working for it hard enough is a lot of work. The rest of the world at large isn’t any brighter than it has been–in some places this morning quite a bit worse and I’m so sorry–but I’ve been writing these posts since 2006 and this is the darkest it’s been so far for me personally. When I preface wry or struggling comments with “Since my dad died,” I can kind of get people to remember that. When I don’t, I get pushback of the “I would expect you to be more cheerful!” kind. I get that a lot.

Because…grief doesn’t change the general shape of our relationships with people. So if the general shape is “we are mutually supportive friends,” there can be ebb and flow there, it’s all good. But if the general shape is “I provide light, you soak it up,” well, get with kneading that saffron bread, lady, that is your job here. That is what you are here for. Why are you not doing your job.

A lot of years I use these posts to be grateful for those who have brought light to me, and I am, oh, I am. I have needed some of those who have been there for me this year, and I know some of them have needed me too. We have clung together on this little raft when we expected to be on dry land. But…I feel like there’s a taboo around saying that some people have brought some of the darkness too, beyond what grief itself has brought us. Beyond what fear and political upheaval and all the other things have brought us, there are the people who treat us like commodities. Because we always fought to bring the light back before.

Well, and I’m trying to do it again. I’m burying my hands in the dough, I’m revising the words, I am doing the work. I am trying like hell to do the work. And to keep sorting out which bits of the work are really necessary and which bits I can just…let rest for a minute, a year. But I am not a commodity, I’m a person who is grieving. My mother is a person who is grieving. The answer we keep giving in this dark year, whenever anyone asks how we’re doing, is, “We’re doing the best we can.”

Today the best we can has to involve lussekatter. In a few weeks, an experimental babka. It also involves my current practice of reaching out to others who are grieving, ill, divorcing, or otherwise struggling–in general, but particularly when I’m angry at those few people who are not there for my mother in the ways they said they would be. That’s the best I can do: to not be them. To take their examples as an opportunity to do better, even when I am so very tired.

But also the best I can do today is say out loud: it is dark, and it was a lot of work making this bread, and I am really, really tired, and I could use some light. I need help with this. I can make the bread alone. (It rose enormously this year.) I cannot make this light alone. This darkness is a long road, and I am not out, and this bread is not magic. Neither are the words, “How are you? I’m thinking of you.” But until we get magic, we’re going to have to layer not-magic on not-magic until we’re warm enough to go on. They say it’s warmer if you keep moving. We can hope that’s right. We can stand by the oven and inhale the saffron and warmth and wait until it’s just barely cool enough to eat. Because this year we need this. Don’t forget we need each other.

Happy Santa Lucia Day.












2007: and

2006: — the post that started it all! Lots more about the process and my own personal lussekatt philosophy here!

1 thought on “In lieu of magic, layers

  1. When I woke this morning and found it was Saint Lucia’s Day, my first thought was “I need to go read Marissa’s lussekatter post!” Your “punching the darkness until it bleeds daylight” posts have come to be as much a part of my private December as my annual “kindle lights in the darkness” Chanukah poem. This has been a dark year literally and figuratively (lately, the early sunset and seasonal rains make it dark well before 5pm). We’ve had happy parts this year but also lost a beloved cat and a grandfather-in-law (also beloved, and an iconic sort of person to most who knew him). I lost my dad a few years ago so I want to say I know how it feels – but I don’t, because I don’t know how it feels to lose *your* dad. Still, my thoughts continue to be with you.

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