______We were three men sitting around a table, a father and his two sons, alone together because we had just lost a loved one. She had passed suddenly from cancer. And for those who don’t believe that people can be here today and then gone only 24 days after a diagnosis, it’s true. It really does happen. What started as a seemingly normal case of anemia turned out to be ovarian cancer gone into her colon and then lymphatic system. And, just like that, a husband of 37 years and two stepsons who felt like her “real” children were punching through a fog of surprise and grief unlike anything they had known before.
______Outside it was strangely cold. A frozen fog had settled in, leaving crystals of ice on every blade of grass, barren branch, and unfortunate flower. It was beautiful in a strange way, almost lunar but with moisture. Inside the quiet house, the father and his sons were going over the details of the next day when she would be buried. She would be ceremonially washed by two women from the Islamic center, and then wrapped in a simple sheet. We would be invited into the room where her body was, a place that would turn out to be more like an empty fish market after it had been hosed down for the night. Her body would be covered except for her face, though after a few of us had said goodbye, the two women would wrap the cloth around her face, too. And then we would pick her up and put her into a simple pine box, making sure to position her body so that it would be leaning toward Mecca when she was laid in the ground with her head facing East.
______The two sons listened to their father as he went over the other details of the coming day, letting them know that since German law forbid being buried in only a sheet, he had to purchase a coffin, but that we were going to place in it several handfuls of dirt from the front and back gardens that she had toiled in for so many years. We remembered together how much pleasure and work maintaining a yard was in Bavaria. While we were sitting there, one of the sons said that tomorrow we would hopefully experience a phenomenon that was captured by his favorite word. We asked him what that word was, and he answered, “apricity,” that experience of the warmth of sunshine on your face on a winter’s day.
______“That’s a great word. You don’t hear it anymore.”
______“Truly.” A silence followed that indicated submersion into thought.
“And what’s your favorite word, Abba?”
______“Mmmmm. That’s a good one! We’ll count it, even though it’s really two words.”
______“Yes, but they are my favorite words in English.”
______“Have you ever seen the Northern Lights in your travels?” we asked him.
______“Yes, in Alaska.”
______“Mmmmm. How neat.”
______Finally, he asked the eldest son, “What is your favorite word? It’s your turn now.”
______He answered, “Callipygian.”
______“Yes, it means, ‘having beautiful buttocks’ as in, ‘that statue of Aphrodite has divinely callipygian assets.’”
______For a few moments, the three men sat around the table and chuckled that the Greeks had given that quality a word of its own.
Each of the favorite words came from Latin or Greek. Apricity came from “apericus,” which is where “apricot” derived, a fruit that even looks like a miniature sun. “Aurora” came from the Roman goddess of dawn (another sun phenomenon) and “borealis” came from the Greek “north wind.” “Callipygian” just came from the word for “beautiful” (“kallos”) and “behind” (“puge”) in Greek.
Just for a moment, pain was subsumed by wordplay and riddles.
______The next morning, all that went away until the three of them were standing at the now-covered graveside. The dirt had been patted down, leaving a mound that everyone knows somehow. The wet cold stabbed through the layers of clothing and overcoats. There was no sunshine peeking through the clouds that day.
______Later, when the three men were at home, it was very quiet. The younger son had gone up the stairs, leaving the eldest son alone with their Abba, who turned and said, “Do you think ‘callipygian’ can refer to men, as well as women?’” His lips curled up just ever so slightly, recalling the last night’s brief respite from grief.
______"I’m sure it does, Abba.”
______“Well then, your brother is in good shape. He has callipygian qualities. As for you, I want you to work on losing some weight.”
______Now, he was channeling his dearly departed wife, who would have asked the same.
______“You’re right. I definitely need to do that. It’s certainly what she would have wanted, too.”
______“Yes, it most certainly is.” He said this quietly and looked down where he was now seated. “I need to tell you something.”
______“Of course, Abba,” the son said, reaching out and holding his father’s hand.
______“I just wanted to let you know that I never really saw the aurora borealis.”
______“Oh…that’s okay, Abba. I just thought you might have, during your travels.”
______“Well, yes. I might have, but I really didn’t, though I do think they are beautiful. I felt bad that I misled you because I actually never did see them, and I exaggerated a little.”
______“It’s okay, Abba.” In the silence, the eldest son held his father’s hand. “I appreciate that you told me. It was difficult last night, I know. It’s okay, Abba.”
______The new widower closed his eyes and tilted his head upward, and in that moment took in the apricity from his son’s love.