Everyone processes grief differently. From those who wear it all on their sleeve to those who bottle it in and let it slowly eat them up inside to those who tackle an entirely unrelated project with distracted abandon, being sad is a universal condition we all have to figure out how to deal with.
I grew up in New England. We’re taught from an early age not to show sadness. Or happiness, or anything, really, other than a mild general irritation with other human beings. “Be like a cement pillar,” they said, or something along those lines. At my grandfather’s funeral, we drove up to the gravesite two seconds before the priest arrived, stood there for 2 minutes while he mumbled something in Latin, then got ushered back to the car and whisked away to a Chinese restaurant before anyone could respond to the fact that we were at a funeral. Ta daaa! All you can eat won tons! SSHHHHH AND EAT THE WONTONS.
Food is an important part of the New Englander grieving process, I’ve realized. It explains so much about my family. Yesterday, I wandered through the grocery store for an hour mulling life and the universe and wound up spending 3 hours making a complicated three course gourmet everything. “What was the inspiration for this?” asked my husband as he surveyed the 500 dirty pans in the sink. “Kekoa,” I said. “Here, have some goat cheese arugula salad with pear vinaigrette.”
I try to be a good New Englander, but it’s a struggle. My day is divided into wide swaths of being OK, punctuated by unpredictable moments of destitute tears triggered by something that reminds me that oh yes, I just lost an important part of my life. That’s how it is for most of us, I think. We muddle through the best we can.
The day Kekoa died, my husband correctly assumed I would not be in the mood for cooking. He then incorrectly assumed that going out to dinner would be a good distraction and a solution to our problem of what to have for dinner. My daughter had suggested we maybe consider takeout, but he persevered in his attempt to get us out of the house.
We wound up in an Italian restaurant, one of those places with extremely attentive waiters who are by every two seconds to make sure you are having the time of your life. “How are you?” crooned the hostess, the water boy, AND the waiter, all of whom needed to be addressed in an appropriately cheery tone. And don’t even get me started on the pepper boy.
They left us with a pile of menus and some crayons, all the better to scribble on the paper on the table. My son started drawing a robot. My daughter, on the far side of the table, started in on her masterpiece.
“Look,” my son said. “A robot looking up at the universe.”
“Very nice,” I replied.
“Don’t you want to see what I drew?” asked my daughter, pushing aside the salad plate to reveal a house, watched over by a small black dog with angel wings and a triumphant angel choir.
“Oh,” I said, and started crying, just as the solicitous waiter appeared with more garlic bread.
My daughter, thinking I didn’t like her work, started crying too, and as the waiter tried to carefully place the food around the table and pretend he wasn’t hearing anything, my son went back to work on his bit.
“Check out the constellation,” he said, “I made Sirius.” A big dog, outlined in stars. Soon, the entire table was covered in memorial drawings and soggy wet paper.
The manager was most distressed at the fact that our family seemed to be having difficulty enjoying the meal. “Is the spinach not to your liking?” she asked in a worried manner, rubbing her hands together.
“It’s fine,” my husband replied. “Can I get another glass of wine?”
Sitting in a restaurant with the waxy proof of your children’s grief staring you in the face while you try to eat is, if anyone is wondering, not the most effective distraction from your sadness.
Cookies, on the other hand, will save the day every time, and thank goodness they figured that out.
But yeah, next time we have to go through this- pizza it is. And for the love of God, do not under any circumstances rent Frankenweenie.