Practicing Parents

Remembering: The Seasoning and Simmering of Grief


~by Jill Clingan

I’ll be honest. I haven’t written in awhile.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I have been writing nearly every morning—a cup of coffee beside me, a pen in my hand, a journal in my lap.

My grandma died a little over a month ago, and since that day I have hand-written 42 journal pages just describing the last few days of my grandma’s life and then the days that have followed.

For some reason, it feels desperately important to me to remember every detail:

Like how the hospice nurse, Eduardo, quietly held her hand and looked at her for so long on his last visit, and how we watched, and time was suspended, until he broke the silence and said he thought she just had a few more hours left with us.

Like how my grandpa told his beloved wife of 64 years that she was beautiful and sang to her, “Oh my darlin, Oh my darlin, Oh my darlin, Norma Jean.”

Like that 12:45 a.m. phone call and how, as we got ready to drive around the corner to be with my grandpa, I just stood for a moment in my parents’ spare bedroom staring down at my pajama-clad legs and boots and stupidly thought, “I look so ridiculous in boots and pajamas.”

Like how I called my brother from my grandparents’ spare bedroom, and how, while talking to him, my grandpa came in and pulled the plug on grandma’s oxygen machine. And then the silence that followed.

Like how my mom, grandpa, the hospice nurse, and I waited in my grandparents’  bedroom for the funeral home director to arrive, and how, with grandma lying there on the bed beside us, my grandpa’s broken voice said, “She was loved,” and how my broken voice responded, “She was love.”

Like how, after my grandma was taken away, I made my grandpa a 3:30 a.m. breakfast of waffles and eggs and decaf coffee.

Like how, as my mom and I sat with my grandpa on the couch trying to write the impossible: an obituary that encapsulates a beautiful life, he looked so small and broken as he said, “I didn’t know love could hurt so bad.”

Like how her funeral was saturated with her love, her legacy, and her faith.

Like how just yesterday my grandpa told my mom that at the store he was going to get “some great big bandaids for my heart.”

I am afraid of forgetting.

I have been listening to Ann Voskamp’s new book, The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life, and she says this:

What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how your remember it.

And I want to remember.

I have to remember.

The truth is, I’m not ready to write more than a list of memories about my grandma just yet. It’s all too soon, too close, too raw. But even though I am not ready to write about how she wove herself into the tapestry of my life, and about how some days without her feel like a literal unraveling, I don’t want to forget.

Grief is so messy, so complicated. But I am trying just to be in the grief. And I am trying not to hide behind my to-do list and family responsibilities and smiles—those masques that I so often use to cover the real feelings, the hard feelings. The other day I sent a text to someone I love dearly that said this, “I know you don’t like to ask for help—I don’t, either—but sometimes it’s the strongest thing you can do.”

It’s hard for me not to try to hide my grief from my family, especially my kids. I feel like I need to be strong, like they need to see me push through these feelings of pain and loss and grief. But the opposite is actually true. It’s OK for my kids to hear me cry, to watch me grieve. This is their loss, too. And I don’t want them to feel like it’s not OK for them to feel whatever it is they are feeling.

A long time ago I bought a picture book called Tear Soup about the slow, messy process of seasoning and simmering grief:

I feel like I’m unraveling, Grandy cried. I’m mad. I’m confused. I can’t make any decisions. Nobody can make me feel good. I’m a mess. I just didn’t realize it would be this hard [. . .] Some days when you’re making tear soup it’s even hard to breathe. Some days you feel like running away. You just hope a better day comes along soon.

This is what I am learning:
“That grief, like a pot of soup, changes the longer it simmers and the more things you put into it.”
That grief, like a pot of soup, takes a long time to simmer.
That grief, like a pot of soup, fills the air with its penetrating fragrance.
That grief, like a pot of soup, tastes differently to different people.
That grief, like a pot of soup, should be sipped slowly.

So today, for the sake of my grandma and myself and my family, I just keeping remembering. I just keep simmering that tear soup. I just keep pouring the events and my heart onto the page. And even though today I am sad and empty, still stirring that pot of soup, still tasting the seasoning of those tears, I have to believe that in the savoring, in the writing, in the remembering, I will find nourishment and comfort.



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