When Mourning Becomes Joy
Happy Blissemas, everyone!
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I love Blissemas! I always find it a time to be thankful for all of the blessings of the year and a chance to look forward with hope to all that will be in the New Year. But sometimes things don’t go as planned, and sometimes the joy of the season is mixed with tears and sadness, mourning and loss. I lost my brother to cancer on December 21st. It’s been fifteen years ago now, and I still remember the Christmas that followed as one of the richest, deepest Christmases, one of the ones in which I had the most to be thankful for of any I’ve ever had.
My husband and I were living abroad at the time. We’d gotten used to spending our holidays away from family, as so many people have, and while it was always a good experience for us, it had become very insular. At the news of my brother’s death – not unexpected, we were on the next plane to Colorado, and what could have easily become one of the worst Christmases of my life became a Christmas filled with wonder and love and appreciation for all that’s good in my life.
It was bitterly cold and snowing when we landed at Stapleton International Airport outside Denver after flying forever. We were met by old friends I’d not seen in years, who had heard the news of my brother’s death and insisted we spend the night with them before we headed over the treacherous mountain pass. They took us to their home, fed us, gave us a warm place to stay for the night along with a much-needed dose of laughter and good conversation. In the morning after a good breakfast, they insisted that for the trip over the mountains to my brother’s house in Wyoming, and for the duration of our stay in the Rockies, we take their four-wheel drive SUV instead of trusting to a rental. They drove the mountain roads in winter, and they were always prepared.
We arrived safely at my brother’s house in very rural Wyoming to find the whole family already gathered and the house full of food brought in by neighbors and friends. That night before the funeral, we put up the tree, something my husband and I hadn’t done in a long time, but something we all did together for my brother’s first grandchild, who was four at the time and just old enough to miss his papa and to delight in the magic of Christmas. It had been a long time since I’d seen the wonder of Christmas through a child’s eyes, and I found myself delighting in Timothy’s delight and remembering how it had been when I was a kid.
At the funeral, there were old friends, friends I hadn’t seen since childhood, all with memories to share of times they had spent with my brother and with all of our family. Some of them came back to my brother’s house afterwards and we all laughed and reminisced and remembered not only the best of my brother’s life – but how far we had all come in our own journeys and just how much we all had to be thankful for.
Christmas morning dawned just as bitterly cold as the rest of our time there had been, but with a dusting of new snow – the dry kind with more sparkle than substance, shining like diamonds in the cold winter sun. We all shared in Timothy’s excitement as he opened his gifts, as he laughed and squealed. One particular gift, I recall was a bowling ball – possibly a bit much for a four year old, but not for a four year old from a family who had a passion for bowling. “This is from Papa,” my sister-in-law told him.
“I miss Papa,” he said, looking down at the ball he held in his lap.
In a strange way, I think I felt my brother’s presence more that Christmas than I ever did when I was a child. We were not close then, and we understood little about each other. Before my brother became bedridden, he had successfully hunted elk that year with his friends, which meant he’d left the freezer well stocked for his family. He had also had time to make sure there was plenty of wood laid in for the winter. The house had a fireplace and a wood-burning stove. My brother was old school – fourteen years my senior, and caring for his family meant keeping them warm and well-fed. I know, that’s what every parent sees as their responsibility to their family, but in the open spaces of rural Wyoming, in the dead of winter, those basics were taken much more literally than they are for those of us living in a more urban setting.
Two days after Christmas, we set off back over the pass to catch our flight back to England. As we watched the smoke from the chimney and loaded our borrowed SUV, we walked past the woodpile. Probably every house in a community that was no more than a dozen homes spread over probably twice that many miles had a woodpile, but for me, it symbolized my brother’s last act of caring for his family.
That Christmas will always be a reminder for me that sometimes the very best of gifts come from the most painful places. Within the mourning, there was celebration, within the sadness there was joy, and surrounding the whole experience, there was love. That, I remember most of all.
Wishing you all celebration, joy and love this holiday season.
Here’s an outdoorsy wild wintery excerpt from the third of the Executive Decisions novel, The Exhibition. Enjoy!
The Exhibition: Book Three of the Executive Decision Series
Successful NYC gallery owner, Stacie Emerson, is ex-fiancée to one Thorne brother and ex-wife to the other. Though
the three have made peace, Ellison Thorne’s friend, wildlife photographer, Harris Walker, still doesn’t like her. When Stacie convinces Harris to exhibit his work for the opening of her new gallery she never intended to include him in her other more hazardous plans. But when those plans draw the attention of dangerous business tycoon, Terrance Jamison, Harris comes to her aid. In the shadow of a threat only Stacie understands, can she dare let Harris into her life and make room for love?
The Exhibition Excerpt — Call of the Wild:
The sun was just staining the sky pink when they topped the rise that overlooked an outcropping of rocks opposite them on the other side of a narrow canyon. And there on a ledge were the two mountain lions. Harris could feel the tensing of Stacie’s body in the excitement he knew she felt because he felt it too. From the looks of the situation the female had been calling for a mate, and the male, who crouched on the outcropping just above her, had just arrived. Harris breathed deeply and slowly to steady his hands as he aimed the camera. He was so engrossed in the cats that it took him a second to realize Stacie had her own camera, and he couldn’t help feeling a swell of pride at just how calm she was, already shooting next to him. But then he reminded himself she’d grown up in the Russian wilderness. Beneath the big city venire, she was made of stern stuff. He leaned close to her. ‘This is my cat all right. See the little notch in her left ear, some old injury.’ His voice was less than a whisper, but she nodded that she understood.
And then the action began as the two cats went about the business of getting acquainted, the female stretched long and lean across the rock before the male, not unlike Harris had seen Dee’s two tabbies do when they found a particularly nice place to sunbathe. In the crisp quiet of the morning, they could hear the rumble of the purr emanating from the female’s throat. It was a feline act through and through as the two made little grunts and growls at each other and the male sniffed the female’s readiness. It didn’t take long until the female rolled back onto her belly and positioned herself, flicking her tail to one side and lifting her bottom.
Being privy to such an intimate act of nature, such an intensely wild and primordial act made Harris’s pulse thunder against his throat. Simply seeing the two cats together like this was an unparalleled privilege, but to share it with Stacie made him feel as though he had somehow offered it to up her, as though he’d had something to do with the cats’ presence here. It felt right on a level that he had no words for. If he were ever to share such an experience, it should be with her. It couldn’t be with anyone else.
At some point he realized Stacie was taking pictures of him as well as the cats. He could see the rapid rise and fall of her chest through the dark green fleece she wore. He could almost feel her intense concentration and her delight at sharing the experience, at watching the cats as they got on with creating the next generation. He loved that she’d made no nervous twitters, no off-handed remarks about the cats’ mating. Most people would have. Most people would have been uncomfortable with seeing something so raw, so blatantly and unashamedly sexual.
The sky had gone from pink to blue and the monochromatic world had brightened to subtle desert shades of tan and mauve and kaki bathing the cats in golden light as they stretched and preened. Then Stacie and Harris watched as they moved on silent feet single file off the ledge and disappeared into the canyon. They stood and watched long after the cats were gone, as though to move, or to speak would somehow destroy the moment. Harris understood. He sat for nearly an hour after photographing the female with her kittens, unable to move, unable to do anything but try to take in what he’d just witnessed.
It was Stacie sniffling that brought him back to reality. He turned to find tear streaming unabated down her cheeks. She offered an embarrassed smile and wiped at her eyes with the backs of her hands. ‘Amazing,’ she managed. ‘They were amazing, so beautiful and powerful and …’ She looked up into his eyes. ‘Thank you for bringing me here.’
‘It was a pleasure,’ Harris managed, resisting the urge to take her into his arms. What she was feeling had nothing to do with him, and he didn’t want to take away from it.
‘I’d love to come back and try to find her after the kittens are born,’ she said.
It encouraged him that she was thinking in terms of the future, a future without Terrance Jamison. ‘I’m sure Doug’ll let us know when that happens. It’ll be three months, maybe a little more, before they’ll be born.’
‘In the dead of winter? That’s a harsh time to bring kittens into the world.’
‘Don’t worry. She’s up for it. Doug says she’s successfully raised at least two litters before the one I saw. She knows what she’s doing.’
Stacie looked after the cats again, and Harris couldn’t resist. He lifted his camera and took a couple of shots of her. When she flipped him off and then offered her usual teasing smile, he only shrugged and continued. ‘Just returning the favour.’
The blush that crawled up her throat made her look even more beautiful if that were possible. ‘Yes but you look outdoorsy and ruggedly handsome. I look all swollen-eyed and under-slept.’
He kept shooting. ‘To me you look beautiful. You belong here almost as much as those cats do.’
Instead of shoving at him as he’d expected her to do, she curled a hard fist in his hair and ravaged his mouth with every bit as much ferocity as he had given her, pulling him still closer, rubbing her body against his, making him instantly and startlingly erect.
She snaked a hand down between them and savaged his fly until he feared for what lay beneath, until her fingers wriggled and dug their way into his walking trousers to possess his cock with a tight grip as though it were a weapon, one she were about to use to do serious damage.
He fumbled to return the favor, with her ripping at her own fly to make room for him, to guide his fingers down over her mons. Her eyes locked his in a devastating gaze that felt as though she could see right through him. ‘I need you to touch me there.’ Her voice was a breathless whisper. ‘Where I’m wet, where I’m open, where I’m always, always hungry for you.’ Her breath caught; her eyelids fluttered and she sucked her bottom lip as he found her cleft, wet and open as she’d promised. ‘You can’t tell me you don’t want to be like those cats.’ She guided his hand still further and manipulated it until first two, then three fingers pressed up into her. ‘You can’t tell me that when I present myself to you all hot and ready and begging for it, you don’t want to service my need. You can’t tell me you don’t want to get a little primal with that cock of yours.’ She gave him a hard squeeze and drove her hand up and down his length, thumbing the already abundant pre-cum over and around the tip until he gritted his teeth and held his breath while his hips bucked hard against her efforts.
He scissored her deep with three fingers and raked the silky slickness of her up and over her clitoris, and the sounds from the back of her throat easily resembled the sounds the female cougar made when the male mounted her. They wildly, madly fucked each other’s hands. The wind had risen and even on the clear morning, the chill left no doubt about lingering for more than the quickest of releases. Then she shifted, pressed her back hard against the stone and rested both of her hands on his shoulders. Before he could protest the removal of her fingers from his cock, she wrapped her legs around his waist, her still clothed crotch rubbing tight and insanely hot against his exposed cock as she began to rock and gyrate, and it was all happening way too fast.
‘Stacie I –’
‘Shut up, Harris,’ she spoke between chattering teeth. ‘I need to come, and so do you. You can fuck me properly when we get back to the SUV. It’s too damn cold to linger.’ With each sentence she ground against him, baring down with the extra leverage the cliff at her back afforded and, almost before the words were out of her mouth, she convulsed. Her spine stiffened and her shivers had nothing to do with the cold. Harris could stand no more. He felt the eruption deep in his groin. It might have been embarrassing had the circumstances been different, but as he tried to cover himself, tried to hide the results of Stacie’s hard ride, she shoved his hand away, pushed him back and practically fell into the space between them positioning herself so that she caught his release, all of it in her mouth. What could he say to that? What could he do but hold her there, helplessly grunting the weight of his need into the back of her throat. It was an act as intimate and as primal as the cougars mating on the rocks minutes ago. And sex, any kind of sex, with Stacie Emerson was worlds apart from any other sexual experiences he’d ever had. As she stood and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand, the look of hunger in her eyes, the promise of more sex to come in the SUV before the trip home couldn’t help but lighten the mood. As they straightened and tucked and donned their packs, he wondered if that was maybe why she did it. Whatever her reason, it definitely worked for him in ways he was still trying to get his head around.