My word of the week is sweetbitter*– not really a word, but it should be (like these non-words and these). More apt than bittersweet, “sweetbitter” places the joyful before the sorrow.
We are in Pennsylvania for a yartzheit, a year since my father-in-law died. How can it be a year already since the world stopped, a harbinger of the whole world stopping as if in sympathy? Come Wednesday, we will go to the cemetery and face head-on the abject missing of someone so loved, so central. Come Wednesday, there will be the output of tears, reckoning with what was lost.
But before that there is snow (a thrilling gift to California boys who have been watching the weather reports and praying for this for weeks). There are borrowed sleds and a hill. There are snowballs and dogs romping. There is the ridiculous cake Aunt Jessica created — sweet with some bitter chocolate — to celebrate two January birthdays weeks gone by, because life is for celebrating even belatedly.
We are here, we are together, and we are missing. An exquisite yearning.
Death always takes us by surprise. We are never ready. We bury our heads in living. But would you want it any other way? To be asking each morning, will this be the day? We live and play and we mourn and grieve.
To be clear, it matters that a year has gone by. We have passed through every season, every birthday, every holiday without him. Each painful. “Just wait,” Jessica warned Christopher on her birthday, the first without their father. In the first days and weeks and months, the bitter won out often.
Now, out in the snow, Christopher wears his dad’s jacket and pelts the boys with fists of powder, and runs away from their response. His sister and mom see the familiar jacket and think his father is here.
In the living, in his grandsons, in the dogs galloping over to join them, he is.
P.S. Full disclosure. I threw some snowballs, too.
* I am not the first to crave a word more sweet than bitter. “Sweetbitter” has been used by poets and podcasts and authors before me, to whom I offer thanks and credit.