One of the reasons I was most excited to return to Denmark was because my trip would fall during Easter. Despite the fact that I didn’t grow up in a religious household or belong to any Church (my father was French Catholic and my mum was Danish Lutheran – very different!), Easter was something that was always celebrated – all four days.
Coming to America, it was hard at first to adjust to not having a Good Friday and Easter Monday holiday, to not have the big family brunches and gatherings. To just have a huge cultural shift over what I think is a really lovely (and for some, meaningful) holiday.
My mum and I have been staying at my cousins house in the country where the weather has been unbeatable (clear blue skies and 20C/71F). Prep for brunch started days before; cook books were brought out, grocery trips were made, flowers were bought, cooking was done, candles were secured around. I was going to meet a lot of family for the first time and see others again.
The night before I was giddy as a school girl because, well, the last time I had had an easter like this I was a school girl!
But that night I got word that my cat, Grace, had suddenly taken ill. She was rushed to emergency and things didn’t look good: she had a brain tumor. Although physically in good shape she was neurologically gone. I had to think about what to do for her health and possibly death and it was one of the hardest things to do. I was up all night red-eyed, making plans, talking, sometimes just sitting in the darkness.
The next morning I woke up and the house was fluttering in anticipation for guests who would be coming at 11. It’s one of those times where you just have to put on a brave face and meet people where they are, not where you are.
As most Danish gatherings go, ours went on for five hours of eating (round one, round two, round three), dessert, lots of coffee, lots of stories and even some napping in between. There was lots of chat, chat, chat and it was good.
Some of the family is very religious (my cousin taught Bible study for 11 years) and some of the group are not. I am somewhere in-between. So thinking about the meaning of the day historically, and then the meaning of the day as it was happening now (being with family, enjoying the good, simple life), gave me a lot of things to think about. I wondered if I was being selfish for laughing with my family, for not grieving openly, for not telling everyone what was happening. If it was weird that when I looked at the yard, the people, the food, I felt happy for that instead of feeling sad every moment. It was uneasy to feel torn.
As the last of the guests were leaving, I got word that Grace had passed away in her sleep. The news was far from easy to take and had me devastated the rest of the night. The comforts came from earlier in the day and somehow of having her pass on Easter.
It reminded me of how just a week before my mum and I were at our family’s plot at the Selso Church above. Along side some other family are my mothers parents and we were there to do a little something for her mother who had recently passed away. What struck me was that how in the church yard, which was full of death, there was so much life. From all the birds singing, to the cows grazing on the other side of the wall to the trees just coming back to life from winter. There was this beautiful mixture of life and death. I suppose there always is.
I am often accused of not painting a ‘real’ picture of how things are (IE not sharing the dirt, the hardships, the details) but that’s because I think there are so many hard things to deal with that sometimes the best way to deal with and accept them is to find the good. I’m the sort that whole-heartedly believes that there is good to everything if you look for it (with the full understanding that sometimes this is very, very hard to do not just in the moment, but after a good deal of time has passed).
Easter ended up being that lesson for me; how do you deal with the wonderful right in front when the terrible is also happening? Celebrating and being with family beautiful, wonderful and happy and losing one of my most trusted companions was the most painful events ever.
But then, I think, that’s just a perfect surmise of life; the good with the bad. It happens every day, every moment. The trick perhaps to getting through it all, is to always acknowledge and be present through both so that you eventually get to just remembering all the good.
For that’s really the only way to get from one day to the next, and moment through moment.