Is grief reflected in (un)polished silver?

One way I’m still processing my grief, two years and five months after my mother’s death, is by polishing her silver. Today, my hands are sore and chapped from completing that task last night.Tarnished silver showing a coppery glow instead of the whitish glint of sterling

Perhaps it was just the passing of more than the usual time while travel was ill-advised, but I think regional wildfires and their acidic smoke sped up the tarnishing of her sterling tea service. My irrational heart may also feel that these dark stains reflect the deprivations and loneliness of 2020.

If we couldn’t celebrate life’s occasions together, why shouldn’t our heirlooms wither and wilt in their own exile?

Silver heirlooms & family history

I was a girl, but old enough to notice, when my father bought Mom the silver tea set she’d coveted. I think I recall the particular room in the particular house we lived in at the time. I have memories of her excitement upon receiving it.

I’m not sure that Mom ever actually served tea or coffee from it, but it shone with pride of place in every dining room thereafter.Sterling silver tea service with heavy tray, coffee pot, tea pot, sugar bowl & creamer

Some families may own objects for generations; others build their own cache of keepsakes in the moment. It’s the memories that form mementos, not the artist or craftsman at a workbench or in a factory.

For myself, I take pains to use lovely things such as china and silver as often as possible. Regular readers may recall that I worked on my novel by candlelight last summer while sitting at my parents’ dining room table and keeping one ear open to Dad as he recovered from surgery. I know that five-branched candelabra was one of their Silver Anniversary gifts.

The use of three different styles of mismatched candles is entirely my own choice, and my mother, it must be noted, would be scandalized by such cacaphony.

5 branched candle holder with two gold beeswax tapers, two rust colored beeswax candles, and one smooth taperI use a silver tray to carry Dad’s post-surgical medications upstairs every night now* just as I did in August.**

It’s the right size to fit on his bedside table, lighter than wood, and less breakable than a plate would be. Some old-fashioned objects remain just as useful as their modern alternatives.

How to remove wax residue from silver

Before I polished all the silver, I had to pour hot water over the tray I placed beneath that 25th anniversary candelabra in order to remove all the wax I’d spilled thereupon.

Please note that, never, in Mom’s lifetime, could such a mess have been left for four months or more before being attended to! That, too, is entirely my responsiblity, and does not reflect the way Mom raised me.

If undertaking such a wax removal exercise, make sure you place a paper towel between the wax-stained item and your drain to avoid expensive plumbing repairs down the line. Very hot water does very effectively remove wax from even the most detailed metal surface.

I used water just off the boil, and the tray from which I was removing wax had no heavy, weighted areas to avoid heating. Be careful if treating candlesticks or other items which may contain meltable fillers as counterweight if you try the hot water method!

Amongst the almost innumerable blessings of my highly charmed life, I include the fact that my mother died in the summer of 2019, well before the pandemic. The children and I were able to spend the first holiday season after her passing with my father, accompanying him through what was a difficult time for all of us.

Frankly, anyone who knew my mother would recognize at least this irrefutable fact: she would have hated being locked down and isolated from society. Mom liked to be busy, and she reveled in the company of other people.

I don’t know if I could have survived such a loss in 2020 when travel took on new risks. The idea of Mom’s hospice care taking place while we were thousands of miles away is intolerable. I can’t even express the gratitude I have for the fact that I wasn’t challenged in such a way.

In spite of the mild miseries of my own experience of the pandemic, I know firsthand that heroic caregivers continued to minister to the dying in spite of the job’s personal risk. The long illness that plagued my mother-in-law came to an end in 2021. Hospice workers—and an investment in long term care insurance decades ago—gave her the dignity of dying at home, as she wished, though there can be no real respite from the ravages of grief.

It ranks high on the list of ways I consider myself luckier than I deserve that we six shared a household, thus having no question about our ability to be as involved as my father-in-law wished with her daily care at the end. Being there for a terminal loved one is difficult; knowing you can’t be must be excruciating.

How to polish silver without damaging it

While products abound, these days, promising quicker, less effortful removal of tarnish from cherished silver, experts universally decry the lazy man’s dips and hacks. Polishing silver isn’t particularly difficult, but it is best done with a bit of elbow grease and zero “quick fixes.”

Removing tarnish means, fundamentally, stripping away a thin layer of the valuable metal itself. It is best to tackle the job gently.

Apply a high quality silver polish using cotton balls, a sponge, or a rag. Rub until the dark stain of tarnish disappears, changing out your cotton or rag when it blackens. Finally, rinse or rub off the remaining polish, depending upon the type of object you are cleaning. A tray can be wiped dry or rinsed, then buffed; silverware or items you put in your mouth want washing after polishing.

Silverware as a shelf for memory

I have less memory of how this three-tiered silver tray came into my parents’ possession, but it does define the space for receiving Christmas cookies in my mind. Now that I’ve polished it, a bit of baking does seem to be called for.

When is it not better to confront a pleasing array of delicacies arranged on a silver platter? Or trois? When is a display not improved by height, texture, and depth?

While I wish my father weren’t recuperating from a painful operation, and I wish my mother were here, in her house, doing a better job of decorating, polishing silver, or tidying up than I every could…

Well, suffice to say that I am grateful for Dad’s recovery. I’m happy to spend the month of December surrounded by Mom’s things with at least the possibility of realizing a tiny fraction of her joy in the Advent season.

It’s a constant ache and awareness of loss to live amongst the remnants of my mother’s life, but such a gift that I have the luxury of time and access to process my feelings about everything she was, what she loved, and what she left behind.

The finer things in life only achieve that definition because we acknowledge how they add to our delight, or enhance our appreciation of the lives we lead. Even gold has only so much luster outside convention.

I would trade every precious metal for my mother’s presence if I could, but that’s not how living works, and that’s not a bargain anyone gets to make.

Grief is not the garland we expect for our holidays, but it is one most of us will hang one day. Whether personified by tinsel or a sterling silver tea service, holiday grief is a likely inheritance to everyone blessed by the chance to love and be loved.

It’s hard to make a family without generating holiday memories. Vanishingly few conduct an entire life without loss. Learning to live with grief throughout the holiday season is the burden—and the gift—of those who’ve been loved.

*For knee replacement number two

**When Dad became a cyborg, as he likes to say

Cheer a grumpy Christmas by stacking tiny bricks of gratitude

2020 hasn’t been a normal year. This won’t be an average Christmas.

Xmas tree - 1Many of us are heeding public health advice and avoiding travel. Some of us are still grieving lost loved ones whose presence defined* special holidays. Ignoring these very real sources of pain is neither healthy, nor possible in the long term.

But does acknowledging the bumps in life’s road mean choosing between being a humbug or a Grinch? I hope to prove otherwise.

I’m afraid I’m having a Very Grumpy Christmas. While I wish for better for every reader, I suspect my miseries enjoy plenty of company.

When I’m in this kind of snit—so easily degenerating into a full on funk—about the only remedy is the doing of good or the counting of blessings.

As I took advantage of an un-rushed school vacation week morning today by staying in bed for an extra hour with my book, I was grateful for not yet having reached the end of the last series of novels my mother will ever recommend to me.

She bugged me for months to pick up the first one. Why did I resist until after she was gone? I wish with every page that I could tell her how much I’m enjoying them…

Comforting myself with this small thing for which I could give thanks, I realized each little blessing is a brick. If I stack up enough of them, I’ll have built a sizable structure. One brick won’t do a person much good against an invading army, but enough humble chunks of masonry suffice for The Great Wall of China.

Thanksgiving give thanks - 1So perhaps I’m not playing so well with others, today. I’m hardly a Sugar Plum Fairy. I’ll be a builder, though, of my own Great Wall of Gratitude.

I think it will hold.

QC city walls

Here are a few more trivialities I’ve found to be thankful for today:

  • My husband went back to the too busy, too crowded day-before-holiday bakery when they forgot to include my favorite cinnamon buns in the pre-packed bag he went out for at dawn.
  • My teenager told me he loves me… without me prompting him by saying it first.
  • My younger one never hesitates to show me affection, not even when his friends can see him doing it.
  • My kids can collaborate on a project and produce something great without adult supervision.
  • My pantry is full; I’m not afraid for how I will feed my family.

Readers, please feel free to share in the comments what you can find to be grateful for this topsy-turvy holiday season. Your smallest joy would be a Really Wonderful gift to me.

* I can’t look at a Christmas decoration without being reminded of my mother, who died of cancer in 2019. On the other hand, to ignore her favorite holiday would be the most disrespectful possible thing as far as honoring her memory goes.

Today’s post is brought to you in memory of Mother Christmas.

Mom decorates Christmas tree with ornament

That would be the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. Find them listed in order here; I’ve made it to book 13, Glass Houses. You definitely do want to read these in chronological order if you opt to give them a try. They’re decorous enough for readers of cozy mysteries (Mom), but complex enough for those of us who like to pretend we’re exercising our minds with our choice of literature.

Be warned, however: If you get into these mid-pandemic, you’ll be cross that you can’t make a visit to Quebec, which Penny paints as paradise… if you can get past the political intrigues and frequent murders!

Flu

Just one word: flu.

I never use one word when one thousand will do, so, naturally, I will elaborate.

As if winter’s lingering darkness and New England’s coldest temperatures in years weren’t enough, we have to add widespread influenza infection to the list of legitimate complaints for still nascent 2018.

If my local children’s librarian* is to be believed, our corner of our state is the hardest hit in the area with this more-severe-than-average flu.

My situation isn’t even so bad. We are a house divided: only one of us has flu. I’m hunkering down with the sick one while DH keeps his distance and manages the healthy one. They leave us trays of food outside the door and occasionally send word about the outside world.

flu gear - 2The good news is that we have space enough to almost completely quarantine the sick kid. He hasn’t been downstairs for several days. Our over-the-top 1980s house came complete with a wet bar in the spacious master bedroom; between the mini fridge and the microwave, I can cover most of our needs without venturing forth myself.

We’re also lucky that the vicious cold spell is over. I can crack a window for ventilation between the child’s Petri dish of a nest and my frequently wiped down seat on the other side of the room. He isn’t lonely, and I haven’t caught the Plague yet. The separate heating zone for this room also assuages some of my guilt about sending so much heat literally out the window.

The bad news is that it’s the kid with the underlying condition making flu particularly dangerous that caught it.**

The doctor didn’t even want me to bring him in, citing the risk of exposure for others. He called in a prescription for Tamiflu and told me to plan on spending four to five days at home. The drug is the best thing medicine has got for reducing flu symptoms, but it only knocks half a day or so off the illness’s expected duration.

flu gear - 1Since the only side effect we’ve noticed is mild nausea and the evidence suggests Tamiflu reduces my son’s risk of hospitalization, I have no regrets about following this course of action.

An interesting aside: my husband’s doctor recommended getting the nasal swab flu test, but the pediatrician did not want to risk exposing others at a medical facility. DH’s internist would also have prescribed Tamiflu as a preventative to the rest of our household. The pediatrician did ask if my other son needed an Rx, too, but didn’t suggest Tamiflu for the adults.

We generally prefer to avoid taking drugs until they are absolutely necessary, so none of the rest of us are taking antiviral medication, but I found the variety of approaches interesting.

I should add here that, though I have a chronic illness, I am not considered immunocompromised at this point. If I were, I would take the Tamiflu without argument; as it is, I will play the odds.

We’ve increased the dosage on my son’s usual meds as directed, and I know the danger signs of severe illness for which I should watch, but the primary treatment for my sick kid is the same as for the rest of us unlucky enough to catch the flu: plenty of fluids and lots of rest at home.

I’m keeping myself sane by the following means:

  • Alphabears app on my iPad ~ the best word game I’ve played since my paid version of Bookworm stopped being supported after wretched EA bought innovative game developer PopCap.
  • Skullduggery Pleasant audiobooks ~ a great story that amuses both mom and child in the sickroom, but my older son had to jump through hoops to get the later books since they were only released in the UK. Read what you can get your hands on here in the USA, then agitate for the rest of Derek Landy’s series to be readily available where ever it is wanted.
  • Refining my packing list—and taking photos of same—for an upcoming trip that I will blog about after the fact ~ if you see better than usual pics after my next big adventure, you can thank 100 hours or so of enforced idleness wherein the closet became a welcome break from the monotony of the bedroom.
  • Wiping down doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls with disinfectant ~ okay, so that one isn’t so much fun as functional, but it does keep my brain occupied. “What did the child touch?” Right. Just about everything. Sigh.

Stay healthy, dear readers!

Wash yours hands often, or use hand sanitizer. Humidify your air if it approaches arid arctic conditions. The influenza virus is weakened at normal to high humidity levels aim for 50% RH***, and simple soap and water or the alcohol in sanitizer are sufficient to deactivate it on your skin before you transfer it to your vulnerable mucus membranes (i.e., nose and mouth, where the virus usually gets in.)

And if you do get sick with the flu, please, stay home until you’re no longer contagious.

Not sure if it is just a cold or the dreaded flu? Call your doctor!

If you’re not willing or able to do that, your best clues are:

  • sudden onset of symptoms,
  • severity of symptoms, and
  • presence of a fever.

When in doubt, stay home while sick. You are most contagious during the first few days with influenza.

If you have flu, you are spraying a cloud of virus into the surrounding environment with every breath. The person standing next to you could have a compromised immune system or a preemie at home.

Keep your germs to yourself. Let’s all work together so that this flu season winds down soon.

*I didn’t ask if she’d used her librarian superpowers to find out this fact, or the same gossip mere mortals employ to assess epidemic illness trends, so that might just be hearsay. As it served my preexisting notions, I just assumed she was correct.

**When I called his school to let them know he would be out sick, I learned that several other children from his class had the same symptoms. Ah, children. They’re the cutest little vectors for disease.

***Relative Humidity

New symptoms, however trivial, seem an insult with chronic illness

When you live with a chronic illness, you become accustomed to what might be a whole host of pains, inconveniences, and symptoms in general. No matter how difficult or debilitating, the ever so flexible human being adapts to the situation, and she carries on.

But, a new symptom? Each one strikes me as an insult. It might be the most trivial yet, with fewer obvious repercussions for my overall health in the long run, but I’m outraged.

Why?

Because I’ve gotten used to my symptoms, so this strange one must be… someone else’s? I don’t know. But it isn’t on my list.

Until it is. And then there is one more thing to add to the bundle that I’m carrying. Some days, I really, really wish I could just set that burden down.

This isn’t meant to as a complaint. I actually noticed this reaction in myself recently, and found it kind of funny. I thought I was overreacting to a tiny change.

Health eyes Systane drops - 1Dry eyes? Big deal! And they aren’t anything that can’t be dealt with using over the counter drops. Thus spake the ophthalmologist. It’s silly, really.

Amusing, anyway, until a trivial symptom gives way to a more troubling cousin, and then the immediate annoyance makes more sense.

Annoyance stands in for anxiety, or even fear, and there’s not much use in that when there’s no one to fight and nowhere to flee.

I’d rather be grumpy and in control of something, even if that something is my own foul mood.