I’d like to extend my warmest thanks and gratitude to you readers for the e-mails, comments, phone calls, cards and messages you’ve sent the past few weeks, while we struggle with the passing of my mother. So many of you knew Mama, and it’s been deeply touching to hear your personal remembrances of her. Hearing those stories, those little details and tidbits that’ve stuck with you over the years, has meant so much to me.
Other readers have said that while they’d never met Mama personally, they felt like really did know her after reading stories about her for so many years, and that felt good to hear, too. Mama was a character: feisty, boisterous, audacious. Larger-than-life, in so many ways. It makes it all the harder to accept that she’s gone. When a woman’s had nine lives, and Jesus, she certainly did, you’re almost convinced she’s immortal.
Daddy and I keep reminding ourselves that we got to keep her so much longer than we thought we would, and we need to be grateful for that. Sometimes we feel guilty about our grief because it seems almost selfish: Who are we to cry in our soup and wallow in self-pity? We, who got 37 more years (big, lovely more years) with her than we should have?
Sorry, Universe. We’re still kind of bitter, despite our luck. That’s just the way it goes.
I don’t have a road map or a compass to help me navigate through this grief thing, but boy, that’d be awfully helpful. Anyone got a guidebook they can loan me? I feel like I’m constantly lost and off-track and sort of just wandering about in a fuzzy, heavy haze.
But I guess that’s one of the nasty underbellies of the mourning process: there isn’t a right way, or one way, or a clear way to do it. And it’s different for everyone. Heck, it’s different for me moment-by-moment. One minute I’ll be stirring a big pot of steel-cut oats to store away for a week’s healthy breakfasts and the next minute I’ll be crying over said oatmeal because it has pecans and dried cherries in it (Mama’s favorite additions) and the minute after that, I’ll be hurling a wooden spoon across the kitchen in an oatmeal-fueled rage.
It’s messy, you know?
I’ve never been very comfortable with messy, so this is kind of a problem. I find myself wanting to tuck my grief away into tiny, labeled containers and then stow them somewhere quiet and far away, so nobody else can see them. So nobody else has to see them, particularly my girls.
Perhaps this desire to shield others from my messy feelings is one more trait I inherited from Mama, because I hardly ever–ever!–saw her cry. Even when Gramma Rhetta died and Wild Uncle Johnny died* (and I know those losses pained her greatly), Mama grieved neatly and quietly and personally. She was a tidy griever, if there is such a thing.
I, alas, am not tidy.
Turns out, I’m a giant, sloppy blob of a griever and I’m smearing it around everywhere I go, leaving sticky tracks in my wake.
It’s bullshit, man.
One big piece of bullshittery? How you never know when grief is going to sneak up on you. There are times when I expect to fall apart–times when I know things are going to be ugly and mean (you know, like verifying medical directives and removing feeding tubes and identifying bodies)–but somehow, I don’t fall apart. I keep it together. I’m calm. I’m solid. I take it like a boss. And then some puny-ass little detail, like the sight of a pair of sunglasses on a side table or an unmade bed…I lose it.
The sneaky side of grief might be the worst part, and Daddy feels the same.
I can’t seem to keep out of the kitchen since everything with Mama went down, which is another stupid thing, because while I feel the need to make food, I have no interest in eating it. Maybe it’s just the act of pulling out pots and futzing with ingredients and filling the kitchen with warmth and the scent of vanilla and cinnamon that’s the purpose, rather than the end result. I sure hope that’s the purpose, because I’m wasting a helluva lot of food.
The past few weeks, I’ve thrown out chicken noodle soup, bowls of butterscotch and vanilla pudding, a pan of enchiladas, a batch of cheesy scalloped potatoes, tupperwares of pasta salad and yes, a whole vat of saffron-laced Grief Risotto, Le Creuset Dutch oven and all. That risotto I just couldn’t deal with, not even the vessel I cooked it in.
It’s terribly wasteful and I need to get a grip on things soon, and it would be nice if people in this house would get their appetites back, but the last thing I really need right now is to place pressure on us about any of that.
I guess all I can focus on is that I need to be in the kitchen.
The kitchen is a weird place to be mourning my mother, and I can’t explain it. The kitchen is usually a happy place for me, not a grieving place. It’s also a damn inconvenient place to grieve, because the kitchen isn’t private or quiet and I’d prefer that my family not see me losing my shit over a pot of oatmeal. But what can I do?
I guess one thing I can do is to either a) start giving away food or b) take to the Internet and ask for help, which is what I ended up doing with that problematic batch of oatmeal last weekend. I whined and kvetched about my oatmeal problem on Facebook and pretty soon, my wonderful friend Annie sent a link for Leftover Oatmeal Muffins, which make tidy and delicious use of leftover oatmeal.
Annie is a great friend to have in a food crisis. She has an amazing memory for food and good recipes, and she knows her way around food bloggers–this recipe comes from Molly Wizenberg, founder of the wildly famous and popular blog Orangette.
It felt good to put the oatmeal to proper use, rather than trash it, and these muffins turned out to be a wonderful alternative to lunch or dinner, when grieving stomachs didn’t feel like eating anything heavy. I slathered mine with a thick layer of wild blueberry jam from Maine, Mama’s favorite breakfast spread. For a few minutes, eating didn’t feel like lonely business.
Leftover Oatmeal Muffins
adapted very slightly from Orangette
1 cup leftover oatmeal (preferably steel-cut and with fruit/nuts in it–mine had pecans, chopped dates and dried cherries but Wizenberg swears by chunks of dark chocolate)
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4-1/3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium bowl, stir together the oatmeal, milk, egg and melted butter, making sure to break up any clumps/lumps of oatmeal.
In another bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cardamom.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon just until mixture comes together and is combined. Do not overmix.
Spoon into muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Best eaten within a day or two, but they freeze well.
*A strange, eerie (and sort of wonderful) note about Wild Uncle Johnny. While Mama was being transferred to the hospice last weekend, my Daddy-o called and said, “Dana, I was looking through some papers, wills and stuff of your mother’s, and did you remember that John died on April 25th, 2007?” Nine years ago. Huh. I hadn’t remembered. And then Daddy got a call just before midnight, during the last minutes of April 25, 2016, from a hospice nurse who said that Mama had just passed peacefully.
By the time the doctor got there to sign the death certificate, the minutes had bled into April 26, officially, so that’s the official date on the paperwork for her passing.
But Daddy and I know. We know when she really decided to go, and as usual, she did it on her terms. Mama and Wild Uncle Johnny? We hope you two are having a drink together up there. Make it a good one.