We get dozens of catalogs in the mail every week. I was leafing through one of them the other day, the Fall catalog from Sur La Table, an upscale cookware and kitchen supply company. It has the usual Le Creuset cast iron casseroles, snazzy knives, improbable gadgets, dishes, aprons and such. I love this stuff, but of course don’t need any of it. It also has a few recipes, which are intended to direct you to buy something necessary to the preparation of them. I saw a recipe for a Pesto Stuffed Pork Roast. I don’t do pork, but I thought it might be good do to a whole boned turkey breast with a pesto stuffing. I had seen a similar recipe for a Wild Rice and Cherry Stuffed Pork Roast last year that I made with turkey. (It was delicious.) Suddenly I flashed back to that moment. I had stuffed the breast and rolled it and was standing in the kitchen with a long piece of kitchen twine in hand. I knew there was a way to tie the roast using a single piece of string, but I couldn’t remember how to do it. Jake came into the kitchen, and I asked him if he knew how to do that. Silly question. Of course he did, and showed me in a matter of moments. He helped me get the roast secured and into the oven. “Thanks, Jake”, I said. “No problem, Pops”, and he was off. As I was reliving that lovely little moment, sitting at my kitchen table with this stupid catalog addressed to ‘Jake Colman or Current Resident’ in hand, my eyes filled with tears and I broke down sobbing.
It is these tiny, seemingly insignificant details that have the power to incapacitate me, even if only for a few moments. The pool of sorrow shimmers just below the surface in an uneasy equilibrium. Most of the time it is calm and quiet, but it can erupt at any instant; triggered by one of those millions of details that make up our lives and memories. It doesn’t happen as often as it did at the beginning of the year, but as always, it strikes without warning. What I haven’t quite figured out is why those moments, those details, have such power. I can contemplate the incalculable tragedy of this whole thing, the fact that I have no heir to whom I will pass my lineage, that Jake’s death lops off two huge limbs of our families’ trees. I can reflect on the far-reaching implications, all the people who miss him so dearly, all the things we did together and will never do again, all the untasted experiences we didn’t get around to, and usually remain dry-eyed. Usually. The 28th’s pass without much drama, those milestones are losing their sway somewhat. These are all ‘big-picture’ thoughts and memories. However, it is the details, like the bus schedules we found in a briefcase while cleaning out his room, that so clearly illuminate the extent of this tragedy, the fullness of Jake’s life, and how he touched everything and everyone he came in contact with. It is the specific and random memories that overwhelm me from time to time. The mere thought of a word, a look, a picture, an object, something we did, or said, or shared, has the potential to unleash the grief spasms.
Today, while I was writing this, I came across a post from another grieving Dad about this very same thing.
We come across these talismans from another time and place another life, a lifetime ago, in the most unlooked for places. They are not always physical objects. It can be a smell, a taste, a sight, a sound. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows what I am talking about here. These details are so potent precisely because they are so tiny. They are the Lego blocks that make up the complex and intricate structure of our lives. There are untold millions of them. If a few go missing, we can still go on, but there will be spaces here and there; the rocket ship or boat or fort we are making won’t be whole or complete. That is how I feel now. There are holes in the fabric of my life. I am no longer complete. The loss of Jake has burned a myriad of holes in my being. Different sizes, different places. Some of the big holes I have learned to avoid, but those darn pinheads of memory are so insidious. They creep up and attack without any forewarning. It is impossible to know what or when. I have come to the place where if these spasms grip me when I am out and about, I really don’t care what people might think about this guy sitting at a table with fat liquid tears rolling down his cheeks. Sometimes I put on my sunglasses, sometimes I just let the tears roll unselfconsciously. I have nothing to hide nor apologize for. If someone should happen to ask what is wrong, I tell them. Mostly people just look away.
These tiny little grief bombs will always lurk in the shadows and will detonate when I least expect it from now on. So be it. I am learning to live with it. What other choice do I have?