A Milestone Moment

I woke up yesterday morning with the desire to bake scones.

Perhaps only another widow can understand this, or someone who has lost interest in cooking due to some other life disruption, but this was one of those milestone turning points in a path of grieving.

Grieving? Still? I expect that is the thought that goes through some people’s minds when I refer to grief. It has been more than six years since my husband died. Five since my grandson’s death.

Let me qualify that statement. While I no longer consider myself actively grieving the triple losses of mother, husband and grandson in the space of three years,  I’ve accepted the fact that  we don’t reach the end of grieving until we are greeted by our loved ones at the gates of Heaven.  We loved someone and we must now live with their absence. I still miss my dad and it has been 32 years since he died.

The path is one we have to travel alone, though others can help us navigate the twists and turns or companion us on our journey. Ultimately, in the end, it is the individual who must choose how they will react, what they will do with the loss, what their life will look like without that loved one. With prayerful discernment, God will guide them; to the right people, the helpful books, a support group, or whatever it takes for their healing. The Great Healer designed us to heal.

During this journey, and I expect it to be a life-long one, there will be pivotal moments, distinct shifts, some of seismic proportions; getting rid of the loved one’s clothing or possessions, the removal of a wedding ring. There will be life-affirming events when the absence of that loved one becomes sharper but the beauty of the moment overshadows sorrow; a daughter’s wedding, the birth of a grandchild.

I suspect I disappointed my adult children this year when I informed them I wasn’t up to making a Thanksgiving meal. Except for the year my husband went through cancer and we shared a Pizza Thanksgiving with my mother, and when we went out to eat the year David died, we’d always shared a traditional Thanksgiving meal, either at my house or hosted by someone else. But somehow baking a turkey and all the fixings this year felt insurmountable. I knew the traditional Christmas baked ham dinner would probably be fine, but not Thanksgiving. It didn’t really make sense, but November was proving to be a difficult time for me. Perhaps it’s understandable, considering the year’s events. In no particular order, the measurable stressful (good or bad) events of 2018 included: loss of an income, the need to find a different job, a bout of shingles, a book manuscript deadline, a daughter leaving home to work on an organic farm in California, a job search, the subsequent house hunt and corresponding house sale, the release of a new book and expressive writing workshops in conjunction with it,  the great purge of household items and sentimental possessions necessary for downsizing from a four-bedroom, two-story house, to a 760-square foot one, two garage sales, the packing followed by the actual move, and finally, adjusting to a new town and different job. Add in the aforementioned daughter returning from CA to stay on my couch until she found an apartment and the fact that not only did I move away from the only support system I had in the form of my older children but I also left a Bible study group that felt like family, and well…maybe the idea of eating out somewhere for one holiday wasn’t such a bad idea.

Still, when one of my daughters playfully commented she’d be going to her friend’s house for a “real Thanksgiving” the words stung. “Remember when you used to be the cooking Mom?” she added. I understood. She missed the mom who’d make meatloaf and baked potatoes and applesauce cake for her Dad every Sunday. I miss that woman myself.

Because a lot of the cooking I did before David’s death was for him. While I didn’t always like planning meals, for the most part I enjoyed cooking. I wasn’t neccesarily a skilled cook, but David appreciated every single thing I made, thanking me after each meal.

After David died there was a period when the local deli where my daughter worked was our go-to place for a drive-through lunch. True, as the mother of an employee, I had the privilege of half-priced meals. But when I pulled up to the drive-through one Monday at noon and the owner already had our meals prepared, I was too embarassed to continue the practice.

So, I became the Grandma who fed her grandkids microwaved Weight Watcher’s meals. Little Jacob knew to go to the freezer to get the dessert of a Little Debbie fig bar. (And I haven’t purchased them since his death, so now I’m the Grandma with no cookies, just like my mother was. I understand now, Mom!)

It isn’t that I never cook, but I haven’t enjoyed it much without the appreciative audience. When I began cooking more for myself, I discovered my daughters didn’t much care for the pot of oven stew or hamburger cabbage soup I’d make on Sunday to last my workweek. Or the baked chicken and my favorite apple/carrot/raisin salad. One daughter became a vegetarian for a good eighteen months, ruining the cooking enjoyment of every dish that called for meat.

As for the applesauce cake, I think I’ve made it once in six years, and without the husband who raided the pan in the middle of the night, much of it ended up leftover, eventually too stale to eat.

Occasionally, one of my adult children would ask me to make one of their favorite meals, and I’d invite them over to enjoy a home-cooked meal. I mostly ignored their request for my potato salad since I’d always made it for their Dad. I didn’t even like it.

I actually thought I hated cooking until my brother-in-law, Dave, requested two of my old signature meals (lasagna, and porcupine balls with corn casserole) when he and my sister Joan visited from Florida. He reminded me of the pleasure of cooking for someone who appreciated it.

So when I woke up with the very real urge to make a recipe I’d pretty much abandoned with David’s death, it felt like another one of those shifts, not of seismic propostions, but distinct nonetheless.

It took me awhile to locate the Scottish Scone recipe I used to be famous for. (okay, not famous, but it was a recipe that had often been requested of me) I finally discovered it typed on a pink piece of paper inside the family cook-book I’d put together years ago. When I realized I had no raisins in the house, I opened a dozen little 100-calorie individual bags of walnuts and dried cranberries I had, sorting out what amounted to half a cup of cranberries, which would do in a pinch. Then I went about the sifting and mixing, enjoying the unaccustomed kneading of dough on a flour-covered countertop.

scones.jpg

With the small domestic chore, I realized something had changed. I felt that shift. Whatever I was feeling in November; a weariness with changes, heightened loneliness… was different. Not quite gone, but better.

Abby and I enjoyed a warm scone fresh from the oven. I took the remaining ones to a “Women’s Christmas” event I facilitated at my workplace last night. There were, indeed, a few appreciative comments and more than one person requesting the recipe, but it wasn’t really about that.  It was about that small but distinct shift.

I’m just one broken person in the world of broken people.  I’m not going to be Betty Crocker anytime soon. I’m just a single working mom doing the best I can, and yesterday’s best just happened to include one awesome plate of scones.

 

A December God-story

December remains a tough month for me. There is that heightened awareness of loved ones missing from the festivities and then the date of my grandson’s cancer diagnosis (eight years ago today). For some reason, I really needed a God-story this month.  One like that December day in 2015, when a former junior high teacher, Robert King, delivered a special package to my workplace.

Mr KingI was experiencing a particularly dark time back then. Having my mother’s beautiful statue come to me forty-five years after she carved it just when I needed it was an answer to a prayer.  Michael the Archangel has been proudly displayed in my home office ever since, serving as a symbol of God’s protection.

St, Michael

Saint Michael came with me to work yesterday, in anticipation of today’s presentation, “Dark Night to Daybreak,” at Shalom Spirituality Center’s Winter Breakfast.  Of course I had to explain the presence of the wooden angel to my co-worker Neal. Shortly after I told him about my artist mother and the meaning of the statue in relation to my presentation, a woman appeared in the adjacent office doorway.

“Is there a Mary Potter Kenyon who works here?” she asked. Our office administrator, Susan, pointed her in my direction.

“You don’t happen to be related to an Irma Potter from Earlville, do you?” she asked, and when I told her Irma was my mother, her face brightened and she grabbed my hand to clasp it in hers.

“I loved your mother! She was in the Ruth Suckow Association with me. I used to give her rides to meetings and we’d have wonderful conversations in the car,” she gushed.  She gave me her name and suggested we go out for coffee sometime. After she left I looked over at Neal.

“Do you have any idea how extraordinary that is; that you would be talking about your mother and that woman would show up?” he asked.

Extraordinary indeed.

This morning I spoke of my mother, David and Jacob, as well as the hope and light I found in God’s grace during the winter of the soul that grief brought. I unveiled the statue at the appropriate moment, hearing gasps of awe. When an older woman approached me after the speech, I wondered at the tears in her eyes.

“Are you Irma Rose’s daughter?” she asked.

“Yes, my mother was Irma Rose Potter from Earlville.” For the second time in two days my hand was grasped…one soul recognizing another. “You knew my mother?”

“I was your mother’s best friend in school. Until Irma Rose Weis came to our school, I was the only girl in a classroom of 13 boys.”

What is your name?”

“Edna. Edna Ginder.”

Just one other girl in Mom’s class, and there she was, in the room, as I spoke about mom and miracles? It was my turn to gasp. We reached out to hug each other at the same time.

I’m not sure how many times we hugged as I recalled other things; how I was with Mom when the Hospice team visited her for the first time in October 2010; Amy and Rose. Amy was Mom’s artist name and Rose was her middle name. When Mom heard the name of the nurse assigned to her care, she’d grabbed my hand in excitement. “Edna? My best friend’s name was Edna!” Mom had felt as though God himself had orchestrated this team who would companion her through her final days. Which of course, he had.

“It brought her great comfort to discover her nurse’s name was Edna,” I told her childhood friend, whose tears now flowed freely. We promised to get together soon for coffee and to talk about the young Irma she’d known and loved.

“Two women in two days who knew your mother,” my co-worker remarked when I told him of meeting Edna. While you were working on a speech about your mother and had brought her statue to work. No one can tell me that is a coincidence. That’s God.”

Edna Ginder

Edna Ginder, my mother’s childhood friend, front row, far left

My God story.