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The Colors of Cancer – Good Grief

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  Patty Tiscareño   5 min read 8 years ago

The Colors of Cancer – Good Grief

During his short stint in the United States Army Air Corps, PFC Ralph Tiscareño earned a certificate of completion in accomplishment and mastery of the harmonica. Well, maybe not mastery, but what he lacked in skill, he more than compensated for with enthusiasm. When we were kids, he played often, but as time, diabetes and other maladies set in, the harmonica’s appearance became more of a special treat than a regular diet.

Maybe it was the joyousness of the season or the kinetic energy of having all the family present, but Christmas seemed to give Dad the energy, air flow and pucker enough to unearth of the harmonica. With great ceremony and aplomb, Dad would extract it from its silver case, give it a tap, tap, tap and a quick blast for pitch and then launch into Christmas carols and his perennial favorites by Hank Williams.

It was priceless.

My mother and father have been gone for some years now; enough time to realize new Christmas traditions, honor old ones and chat with glee about Christmases when they were still among the living. I have termed this reflective time in our lives “Good Grief” with todo cariño and credit to A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Good o’ Charlie Brown. The loveable loser in the zig-zag t-shirt. The kid who never gives up, even though he almost never wins.

Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown, who complains about the overwhelming materialism that he sees among everyone during the Christmas season and attempts to restore the proper spirt with a forlorn little fir Christmas tree, telling us that the ‘biggest tree isn’t always the best tree’.

Charlie Brown, who thinks caroling is cool and that every neighborhood could benefit from a low-cost psychiatric booth, sagely offers that “it’s OK to feel depressed at Christmas”.

Good Grief, Charlie Brown!

Good grief is not the dismissal of memories, but rather embracing memories as they arrive. Marcel Proust said that ‘memory nourishes the heart, and grief abates.” Good grief, especially during Christmas, is a time for families to evoke years past, to trigger more remembrances and to review the passage of time.

Good grief is storytelling, sharing unique and endearing memories. Funny stories, too. Sharing laughter is as important a part of healing as tears.

Good grief is decorating with ornaments that were important to love ones. I always linger over Mom’s three choir boys, made during her foray into ceramics, searching for just the right, protective spot to display them.

And don’t forget about food! Nothing is a more vivid reminder of your loved ones than breaking bread in their memory. In our house, homemade tamales was a tradition, and even the store bought offerings resurrect memories of masa, kitchen table gatherings and red Chile stains in every corner of the house.

Grief during the holidays is normal; they will never be the same without your loved ones. But that doesn’t mean that the season will stop having great meaning for you and that you will never be able to celebrate again in joy. For the time being, know that the pain you feel in your heart and your efforts to work through it and reach out to others at the holidays are perhaps the greatest Christmas gifts you could ever give your loved ones.

In rummaging through a box of items titled ‘can’t possibly throw any of this away’, I discovered a cassette tape recording of 8 songs of my father playing the harmonica. My parents apparently recorded it at home on a pre-historic tape deck, the predecessor to compact discs. You can hear the clicks of the double keys you pressed to record and the rude and abrupt ending when you shut off the tape. My father introduces the music in his professorial voice, not his daddy voice, letting us all know this music is his gift to his family and friends.

I had it transferred to CD and gifted it to my sisters. It is my version of ‘Good Grief’; a beautiful remembrance of Christmas past and a reminder of my gratitude for our parents. As Charlie Brown says, “If I had a snowflake for every time I thought of you, we’d have a really white Christmas!”

Patty Tiscareño

Patty Tiscareño

Patty Tiscareño is the Executive Director of the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation, the community’s only local non-profit dedicated to reducing the burden of cancer in El Paso County.


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