I feel a little guilty and a lot sad this Saturday before Christmas.

For various reasons, I receive a lot of gifts from clients and vendors this time of year. There are foodie baskets as well, but primarily it’s boxes of chocolates, cookies, booze, more candy, sugar, and way more booze. This year we also came home with a couple of cases of wine from Christmas party raffles. The only two people in the place drinking soda or ice water and we win cases of wine.

Whenever possible I share the chocolates, cookies, foodie baskets with the staff. They all appreciate my generosity. However, when it comes to the bottles of wine or liquor, I am pretty much on my own. It strikes me as unethical to share it with coworkers, many of whom receive their own bottles of hooch. Since M and I are not drinkers, we end up cooking with a small portion of the white wines (M loves his wine, butter, and garlic sauces) and giving the rest to the kids or other friends who are not wine and liquor snobs.

Every year a former client and good friend gives me a nice bottle of Macallan and a box of dark chocolates. He knows I don’t drink. He knows I am diabetic. He doesn’t care, says that every “girl” needs to have at least a couple of vices to stay interesting, and I remain very interesting despite or maybe because of my avoidance of vices. A sweet man who does his damnedest to make me think he’s a lecherous old coot. I saw through him years and years ago, when I was still a young up-and-comer of 32.

We had lunch last week and caught up on events of our lives. He does not look well, and confirms his heart is not what it was when he was a mere lad of 70 when he first met me rather than a mature man of 92 he was that day. He said this could potentially be our final Christmas lunch together. I did not want to hear it, believe it, or even consider it, but I was forced to be realistic about the march of time.

He is exceptional company, asked after my family and marveled at my young adult children and their partners and M’s ongoing commitment to his running. We chatted about his fishing, books he is reading, books I am reading and should be reading, his nephew and his wife who help organize his activities and care and how they drive him crazy. Said with a smile and with love, because I know he loves them and appreciates all they do to keep his life running smoothly. Yet I also know the impact of being a very sharp and active mind inside an aging body is taking a toll. His driver and caretaker was kind enough to leave us for our meal and gift exchange – his usual gifts for me and my usual batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Since his wife died 20 years ago I have been making a batch for him every Christmas and every birthday, and he’s kind and gracious and hugely flattering by saying every year that they taste better than all others outside when his wife was alive and baking for him.

When we were parting, he gave me another gift for Christmas, said it was special and asked me to not open it until he died or Christmas day, whichever came first. I was really touched, and told him I’d be calling him Christmas morning when I opened it. He chuckled and took my hand, kissed the back of it in his courtly way, and told me I had come to mean so much to him through the years and he has always been so proud to refer to me bratty girl child he never really wanted until he met me. I was truly moved, and there were tears in my eyes as I kissed his cheek and hugged him goodbye. He winked and told me to be good, he’d be watching, and then his caretaker closed the car door and they drove away.

He died peacefully in his sleep last night. While I was at the gym this morning, his nephew called and left me a voice mail letting me know.

I opened the special gift he gave me. We don’t even have our tree up yet and it’s the only Christmas-wrapped thing in our entire house. I just have not been in the spirit this year and am now so very sad.

The gift was a string of pearls that he gave his wife on their 5th wedding anniversary. I remember her wearing them our last Christmas lunch before she died and know how much they meant to him. He wrote me a note how their value was primarily sentimental, and while I profess to be the least sentimental person in the country, he knew I would wear and enjoy them for many years to come, all the while thinking and remembering them both. He confessed to reading and following my blog, too, and said again how proud he was of me.

I broke down completely into sobbing grief. Me heart is breaking and I cannot change a damn thing about this situation; death is so damn final.

The bottles of Macallen he would give me every year I used to give to another dear friend from my Price Waterhouse days. He loved it, and me for sharing it. But this year, when I went to give it to him last night, his new fiancé said “they” (read: she) feel it inappropriate for me to be giving her fiancé such nice bottles of liquor. Now, this guy and I have been friends for a very long time, and I have been giving him those bottles of Macallen for more than 20 years. I am also happily married, M was standing right there when I went to give it to him, and she says something so … well, so WEIRD. Granted we do not know her well – this was only the second time we’ve met her. M tried to make light of it, asked our friend if he was on the wagon, and he just smiled wanly and thanked us for dinner and such without ever responding directly.

The rejection sort of stung, but M says new couple, new rules, assuming they actually make it to the alter. I was kind of comforted by that, yet still really irritated.

So the bottle of Macallen went to trainer J in a care package this morning. There was also a 6 pack of beer (I think it was beer, anyway) and a couple of other bottles of wine that failed to be claimed the great swap we had last night. And a box of cookies someone brought for us and that M and I cannot be alone with in the house.

This in addition to previous care bags of tequila, vodka, more wine. *sigh*

Hopefully he does not hate me for it someday.

When I decided trainer J should be the lucky recipient of this bottle, I had no idea if he even drinks that particular type adult beverage. But he too is always very kind and very gracious to me, and if it not something he likes probably he has a lot more friends who may enjoy it than M and I presently do. It came to him from a good man with a big and generous heart, someone I love and now miss very much. My only comfort and consolation in this loss is that wherever they are now, I am certain he and his beloved wife are together again.

Rest in peace, James. You are already missed.



4 thoughts on “Swag and sadness: booze, sugar, more booze

  1. Janelle – I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your dear friend. He gave you a wonderful gift to remember them both and it sounds like he really knew you – not just superficially. I’m also sorry that your friend refused the liquor – just because it seems like he is giving in to someone who is insecure and jealous. Not good at all. And finally – you might want to rename your gifts to “J” – I’m not sure “care package” captures the spirit of the alcohol and cookies you are passing on. Maybe Indulgence packages? 🙂
    Big hug my friend – I know how hard it is to lose a good friend in a final way. Enjoy the pearls – they would want you to.

    1. Thanks, SAK. This passing has simply devastated me, and I, who am usually so stoic and capable of pulling myself together, have been falling apart one piece at a time all afternoon. M and I had last-minute shopping to do and pushed through to get it done, and I cried in the car and then again in the stores. Everything seems to make my world feel so empty and bleak with grief.

      I will wear the pearls and remember, always, but right now I cannot even look at them without becoming a tearful, emotional mess. In the back of my mind I hear James cracking wise about how had he known this was what it took to get me to fawn all over him he’d have moved on years ago. It makes me smile, laugh, and sob all at once. I already miss him dreadfully.

  2. It’s amazing how he almost knew that his end was near and most likely exhausted his energy bank for the day, just to have lunch with you. We both know the cliche approach would be to know that he lived a long and great life and to celebrate him. But, given your experiences of the last 10 days or so, your emotions have to be so superficial and easily triggered. When I was reading your post, it made me value the importance of the elderly in our life. We all need that source of mature wisdom. They give us perspective and remind us that our lifetime is limited. Light a candle for him, wear those pearls on Christmas for them and know that you can pour “it” out on us anytime!
    PS- Lucky Trainer J – he can eat and drink all of that with no negative repercussions!

    1. Thanks, A. You’re absolutely correct on so many levels – emotionally, I have that “stick a fork in me, I’m done” type feeling. James was such a force and steadying source of wisdom and humor in my life for so long it feels like a rug has just been pulled out from under me. His health has been fragile since his mid-80s and so I should not be so surprised, yet having just seen him I was caught completely unaware. There is enormous comfort in that, though – I just saw him and had opportunity to say goodbye. Maybe in a few days I will be ready to celebrate his life, but yesterday, right now, all I feel is the huge chasm of my loss.
      *laugh* J had consequences for eating and drinking with abandon, but he’s young, working out is part of his career, and like the rest of us he is planning to curb his hedonism after the first of the year.

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