People still have to eat. Even in the midst of grief and loss and unthinkable events, people still need food multiple times a day. This was the thought that occurred to me two days after my father-in-law passed away.
On some level, it seemed astounding to me that the world kept turning. I couldn’t believe things like groceries and mail and trash pickup continued to exist. Didn’t they KNOW? Didn’t the rest of the world REALIZE? Something earth-shattering had happened. A person who was loved, vibrant, and full of life was gone. Didn’t that merit a moment of silence, at least? A break? A pause?
But no, life continued its unrelenting pace. If anything, the pace of my life picked up. All of a sudden I had to notify teachers, book plane tickets, cancel piano lessons, procure khakis and new shoes – oh, and comfort my heartbroken husband and children who had just lost their beloved dad and grandfather.
I found myself in a shoe store in the god-forsaken mall on a Friday night with both boys, fighting back tears, the words of two separate friends echoing in my head: one of the hardest parts about being a mom is not being able to feel your feelings when they’re happening. They were right. No time for tears, no going back to bed, hiding in the shower, dissolving into a puddle of grief. There are kids to dress! Errands to run! Peanut butter sandwiches to make! People still have to EAT. It feels so unfair.
I was in awe of my sisters-in-law, who sprung into action organizing services, making arrangements, returning phone calls, preparing food. There was just so much to DO. And everyone rose to the occasion. Like a busy ant colony, each person carried far more than their own weight, on top of the crushing weight of their grief, to ease the burden on the others. In the midst of it all, my mother-in-law continued on. Breathing, hostessing, functioning. I was amazed.
I was also somewhat dismayed to realize that my children still needed attention. They still needed someone – me – to shepherd them through meals and brushing their teeth, someone to break up their squabbles, someone to tell them to quiet down and share. They were sad, too, of course. At the sight of Pop’s empty armchair, my 7yo’s eyes filled up with silent tears. But young children don’t sit around solemnly for days, allowing you to process your grief and collect your thoughts.
One morning I decided the best thing I could do was get them out of the house and out of everyone’s hair. So we found ourselves at a botanical garden on a cool, misty Massachusetts day. It ended up being the perfect place. The boys tore around the grounds, chasing each other and leaping over steps and walls, burning off their pent-up energy and maybe processing their grief in their own little-boy way. Meanwhile, I caught my breath. I sat on a bench. I had a moment of silence for my father-in-law.
He was a special person. I wrote about him years ago, and those recollections still hold true. A dedicated family man. Appreciative of life and simple pleasures. Always thinking of others. Quick with a joke and to offer a glass of wine. He raised 5 kids, worked 2 jobs, had 10 grandchildren. He knew better than anyone that life doesn’t stop to wait for you. It goes on whether we’re ready or not, which is both a burden and a blessing.
He would also understand that people need to eat. He adored Italian food, fresh lobstah and clam chowdah, and strawberry sundaes. I think that one of the biggest injustices of the cancer he battled for 6+ years is that it robbed him of the pleasure of eating. Chemo treatment dulled his appetite and his taste buds so that everything he ate tasted like sandpaper, he once told me.
Cancer didn’t steal his sense of humor, though. We shared a running family joke about The Tiramisu Incident of 2006. My in-laws came to visit us in Baltimore shortly before our first son was born. My MIL and I went to a play, which I barely remember because my maternity pants were so tight at that point they were cutting off my circulation.
Meanwhile, my husband and FIL went to a bar to watch the Red Sox, probably. Afterwards, they got tiramisu at an Italian bakery. Neither one of them could stop raving about this delectable confection, and how it was THE BEST TIRAMISU they’d ever had. Yet did either one of these gentlemen think to bring his wife a piece? Even though one of their wives was 9 MOS. PREGNANT?! No, they did not. We’ve never let them live it down.
When I think of my father-in-law, it will always be with a mixture of joy and sadness. We had some great times together. He is gone too soon. And life goes on, whether you’re ready or not. The next day comes, the next meal is served, and we all take our places around the table again, only with one chair now empty. You will be missed, Pop.