Thursday, February 10, 2011

10 Scary Things: #6

Back to 10 Scary Things I Have Done Since My Husband Died. We're on Number 6.

6. Invited people over for dinner. 

Dan and I used to hold small dinner parties. Once, we got 12 people around our table, using the piano bench and yard chairs, but more sanely we were six, including us. This minor social event required a minimum of 12 focused hours of preparation, never mind previous evenings of perusing cookbooks and trying things out. The Day Of required a plan and execution worthy of NASA, a system we became so familiar with we barely discussed it. 

In the morning, Dan did the creative shopping while I made sure the pantry was stocked. We regrouped for a quick lunch, then he started cooking and I began cleaning. By the time the first car pulled into the driveway we might be exhausted, but we were (pretty much) Ready, down to the basenjis brushed and fed.

If you don’t cook, and for two-dozen years you’ve lived with a man who is a superb avocational cook, not only do your minimal kitchen skills atrophy, more important, solo entertaining becomes terrifying. My heart was in the right place: I wanted to invite friends to my home, sit them down, give them some food, talk with them about interesting, intelligent matters. But I came up against a wall every time, of actually doing it by myself. 

And then, a solution! The secret, I discovered, was to host a potluck dinner, and when I panicked at the last minute, to get the ham from a caterer. For a summer lunch on the screened porch, I bought an array of delicious salads from Random Harvest. Today Random Harvest is gone, but I’ve adapted. There are farmers markets galore, and the caterer expanded his offerings. 

I still barely cook—all the mess, fuss, cleanup, for something you eat, by yourself, in five minutes. I’d rather read, or play the piano. I do have friends over for dinner—I love setting the table—but I have yet to cook a meal for them. I look upon this as a relatively harmless eccentricity. 
I love to get friends together, and set the table.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


A few more thoughts on context:
What do you think of your god now? a friend asked me, the summer that Dan was ill. This god, he implied, who had attacked the brain of a smart, witty, person, who had rendered motionless a man who had skittered up and down the pyramids at Chichen Itza while I watched from the ground. 
Put on the defensive, I was too weary, too wary, to talk about God’s plan or to point out that even garden-variety Episcopalianism says of course you are grieved by the illness of your loved one, of course you miss him or her profoundly when they die. But faith, and a spiritual practice and history, also allow you to see your little life in a larger context . . . part of a continuum. 
While Dan was in hospice at the hospital I was told that a counselor would meet with me there at a certain time. Let’s call her Irene. She was at least my age, with a cap of salt-and-pepper hair and a no-nonsense attitude. 
She sat down with me and began our conversation by saying, “You’re probably wondering why this happened to you.”
Dan was just hours from death, but I, at least, didn’t know that then. All I knew was that after four months of being plucky, of dealing politely with people who were clueless about us, I was losing patience. I didn’t snap at Irene, but it was close. 
“No,” I said, “I’m not wondering that. Dan and I have lost four friends to cancer in the last five years. Three of them were in their forties and one was in his mid-fifties, just a year older than we were.” 
Cemetery, Zen Mountain Monastery
I didn’t describe the two couples we knew, both of whom had lost a young child—still in the single digits—under tragic circumstances. I didn’t explain to Irene, that was when I learned that being middle class didn’t keep you safe. 
Nor did I mention to her a friend who lost his only son and his only brother in a small-plane accident. Or discuss with her my high school years, when two boys I knew died, at different times. No drugs, no alcohol, just tragic accidents. My first funerals. I can still see their mothers: one could keep her chin up; the other had to be helped from the church.
I didn’t want Irene to think I was obsessed with death, but all of these are part of my backstory. 
“I feel many things,” I told Irene, “but I don’t feel singled out.” 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cape Cod Words II

Thinking more about the words I came upon—was given—in Provincetown . . . this is not to say that I didn’t find comfort in my religion, Episcopalianism. I did. So far there have been three ohs in the widow process: the Provincetown bench was the second; the first was when Dan was ill but still alive. 
I had hauled myself in to the 8 a.m. service at my church one Sunday. We had a guest celebrant, who preached from the floor, without notes. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but his theme was “God’s plan.” God had a plan, he said, we just didn’t know what it was. 
Oh, I thought. 
Is that what this is about
Lake Taghkanic, frozen, danceable
It had been my plan to grow old with Dan. He was smart and witty and interested in everything. He could be, shall we say, difficult, but in my forties I had realized that he was worth it, that one day, when perhaps mobility was limited, smart and witty would be what I wanted. 
But that wasn’t God’s plan, I realized that Sunday in church. God had another plan for me. It might be better, it might be worse. I would find out. 
In the grief and fear that made up my life that summer, this idea offered a glimmer of hope. It was, in its own strange way, exciting. Once, I had thought I could predict the outlines of my life. Now I couldn’t. At the very least, I might not spend the rest of my life frightened and grief-stricken. Things might, possibly, get better. Life began again to stand open to me.