“Today, when nearly every question can be handled instantly by Siri, or Google, or Alexa, we’re losing the habit of pausing to look inward, or to one another, for answers. But even Siri doesn’t know everything. And Google can’t tell you why your son or daughter is feeling hopeless or excited, or why your significant other feels not so significant lately, or why you can’t shake that chronic low-level anxiety that plagues you.” – Vironika Tugaleva
I got up early and did my cleaning and planning so that Mark and I could sit together at the computer upstairs, open a Zoom link, and ‘attend,’ long distance, Craig’s funeral. The service was thoughtful and set in the church where we first met Craig and Robin, Paul and Isaac. The piano was lovely, and the prayers and readings hit those deep spots.
But there was the remove of watching farewells through a computer screen, the oddness of saying goodbye to Craig that way…Craig who was so immediate, so ready to laugh or to listen, a talented—no, a gifted man, with broad, eclectic interests. A devoted man.
I remember him by a campfire, the flames dancing light on his face as he talked. I remember him solemn, ringing bells in church with gloved hands. I remember him laughing, fingers flattened on a round table, head thrown back. I remember Craig’s kindness, how he listened to Jim, their long intricate talks about fantasy novels and movies.
We have not seen Craig and Robin and the boys for a long time—the last time, maybe, when Jim and I visited to talk with Robin about a writing project I had in mind, writing about people who devotedly raise chickens. Isaac was home that day and had us rapt with his bird discussion. Robin took us into the basement where baby chicks were sunning under warm lights. We went outside and visited the mature hens and the rooster in their free-range paradise.
When we went back in, Craig, home but at work, emerged from his office to say hello. We talked for a bit. Then he went back to his duties.
Sometimes, sharing a pleasantry, a chat, with someone we deeply care for becomes, in retrospect, our unexpected farewell. There are things we just can’t know, and although we shouldn’t live as if everyone we love will be gone tomorrow, it would be good for me to live with heightened appreciation of the people who are so important, so essential, to my equilibrium.
I am not entitled to these amazing people. I have no guarantee that they—or I—will still be here tomorrow.
I need, I think, as we leave a note in the Chat and then sadly sign off, to steep myself in mindfulness.
Instead, I steep myself in chores.
I wash tiled floors and vacuum carpeted ones.
I clean out the upstairs freezer. I find, in that smallish space, unexpected things: two containers of baked ham, packages of Italian sausage patties, the remains of two bags of French fries. Slices of roast beef; slices of roast pork. A container of cooked potatoes.
And, in a big Rubbermaid container, buried way in back, a meaty ham bone.
I put everything on the counter and sort. I leave out the last boneless chicken breast and the last of a batch of spaghetti sauce and meatballs. We’ll have pasta for dinner tomorrow: red sauce for Mark and me, chicken Alfredo for Jim.
I pile individual sized containers of tasty leftovers on the freezer’s bottom right. I can grab and go for weekday lunches, thrusting a serving of chili, or rice and beans, or sweet and sour chicken, into my lunch bag, adding a spoon and a napkin.
I organize and stack things sensibly, so they’re easier to recognize and find, ending up with bags of veggies, cans of juice, a couple of packages of Angus beef hot dogs.
I leave the ham bone out, and I go looking for ways to use it. The only ham bone recipe in my repertoire is Capital Hill Bean Soup, and somehow that just doesn’t seem right today.
The first idea that pops up on the Internet is a meaty ham bone soup. It’s kind of a hammy vegetable concoction. There’s a slow cooker recipe and a stove top recipe; I choose the stove top version. That bids me make a broth by simply immersing the bone in water and simmering for an hour or two. I dig out my sauce pot, fill it with water, add the bone.
The water begins to bubble; I putter, doing laundry, taking a walk, tidying, answering a couple of calls. And then I turn the flame off, let the heaving pot liquor settle down, and I pull out the bone and put it on a thick old platter, cream-colored with a blue border, a chip on one rounded corner. I pull forks and a sharp knife from the silverware drawer.
Mark comes over, interested, and together, we carve off the useable meat, even though we know we should wait till it cools. The bone steams, our fingers fly, our knives swoop. A tidy pile of shredded ham grows.
“Damn!” we take turns saying. “Damn! That’s HOT!”
I chop veggies—onion and garlic and carrots and potatoes. I heat oil in the heavy red Dutch oven. I sweat the veggies, and then I pour in the broth, sprinkle herbs and spices, stir, stir, simmer, stir.
The flavors meld, and I fold laundry.
Jim looks at the leftover ham bone soup and decides to nuke up one of the forgotten Hot Pockets I found buried in the freezer for dinner. But Mark and I eat steaming bowls of savory soup with grilled sandwiches on the side, kind of like a childhood school lunch. It tastes good.
After dinner, we package up the leftovers: more tasty, quick, easy lunches.
And finally, I light the fire and sit in my chair. I pull the soft golden throw over my sock feet and I open the book I am excited to start.
But there it is: the thing I’ve been bustling about and avoiding all day. Craig is dead. Robin and the boys can’t busy themselves away from that reality.
The sadness hasn’t lessened just because I’ve submerged it. I let go my grip and it rises, patient and obdurate.
The sadness will (and should) have its day. A good man, a good friend, is gone.
And, oh, I know there are good consequences from this pandemic…the discovery of hidden talents and resources, the turning of our gaze to what is close, to what really matters.
But there is no denying that this is a time, too, of loss and fear and pain. It’s a time when friends watch funeral services via Zoom, when grandparents don’t see grandchildren for months that turn into years, a time when people who are dear to us cannot be near to us. It’s a time of separation and a time for caution.
It is a time of hugs withheld.
Loneliness, for many people, is a constant now.
And, oh I wish—for our own selfish sakes—we could be at Robin’s door with pots of pasta sauce and deep fierce rocking hugs. Compassion once removed, I find, leaves its own special kind of frustrated freezer burn.
We are all, I think, people who try to be brave and strong, to be upbeat and hopeful, to find the glimmer of good in a God-awful swamp.
“I’m fine!” we say, our teeth flashing in a grin. Our shoulders are thrown back, our heads high; a manic courage flickers in our shiny eyes.
But sometimes we’re not fine. Sometimes life is hard and sad, and the stupidest of soppy TV commercials pushes tears from those twinkling eyes.
And I think then that we should quit toughing it out and give ourselves a chance to heave and howl.
These are times that call for energy and bravery, for stiff upper lips and for taking the long view. But sometimes, it’s okay—sometimes it’s NECESSARY—to give ourselves permission to admit it.
Everything is NOT okay.
I am feeling really sad.
Tomorrow might be better, but sometimes, things just suck.