My mother died at Arlington Hospital at six o'clock on Christmas Eve (just like old Jacob Marley) in 1996, from the results of a stroke she had suffered a few days earlier.
I have a memory of a group of the grown-ups sitting around her hospital bed, chatting quietly that cold, grey afternoon. If I recall correctly, her grandchildren had all said their good-byes the night before, and were off with their Aunt, who took them bowling. It was a pleasant diversion for them at a difficult time, and in years since has become an odd little family tradition—"What, your family doesn't traditionally go Christmas Eve Bowling?!?"
I felt we needed something to acknowledge the season, so I left the hospital and drove, first, to the ABC store, and then to the grocery store, the last faltering incarnation of the once-proud "Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company."
I bought a small flask of bourbon and a small flask of dark rum from the bleak, stale-smelling, harshly-fluorescent-lit, Soviet-inspired ABC store, and a quart of eggnog, a shaker of nutmeg and some cheap plastic cups from the grocery store. I returned to the hospital room with bottles and bags tucked into the capacious pockets of my winter coat, then poured a round of eggnogs for all, spiked them with a bit of bourbon and rum, and dusted each with nutmeg.
We drank a round to Mom, then a second to finish off the container of eggnog. Most of us left the hospital around sundown except Mom's oldest daughter, my big sister, who stayed with Mom until she died and then called us all to let us know. We all cried, a little bit of sadness and a little bit of rage and a little bit of relief and a lot of emotional exhaustion after a week of increasingly despairing hospital visits.
I still have the container of nutmeg, though it's almost all gone now. It gives me some idea of how fast—on average—we consume nutmeg. I never had a way to gauge that before.