Darkness pushed at the living room windows as I sank into the couch near the boxy arm. It wasn’t a soft or fluffy couch like my friends’ couches, but it was familiar and comforting all the same. The firm pillows were covered in a scratchy, grey-blue burlap fabric — chosen a few years earlier to replace the original brown burlap fabric covering. While that functional, midcentury couch didn’t have the gentle smoothness of velvet or the overfilled cushions of other couches, it was the one that had propped me up against illness, broken bones and life since I was born.
I’d cuddled, relaxed and cried there — not all at once — on that couch that was ours in the house we all called home — no matter where we laid our heads each night.
It was early November. Halloween had just passed, and I’d trick or treated with friends — or, at least I think I did. I don’t remember. Though it’s my favorite holiday, that year it dulled. Everything did. All the candy in the world couldn’t make up for what was happening in real life.
Nearby, my grandmother’s raspy breathing hissed in and out over the baby monitor. She’d been diagnosed with breast cancer maybe 10 months earlier. A vibrant, assertive, fierce woman, she’d taught me to swim, to make spaghetti sauce, lasagna and sausage and peppers and to go after the things you want in life. And she’d taught me so much about life, telling me about all the things that came before me. Her grandparents in New York, and their lost fortune in the Great Depression. Her years in the entertainment industry — swimming for Billy Rose’s Aquacade, for a time with her sister, and modeling for Vogue. Her broken engagement, and finding a lasting lifetime of love with my grandfather. Their life in West Virginia, and later New York. And her love of photography and art.
I wish I’d written down the stories and advice she imparted on me in the 14 years we shared this Earth. I wish I could remember her voice, her laugh, her smell … But who thinks of those things that young?
That night she wasn’t awake. I don’t know how long it had been since she was — her body was failing her. But whatever family was at my grandparents’ home that night sat around the kitchen table for a family dinner. There was laughter, even as her absence from the table seemed so acute to me. I wanted our life back — the one we’d had just a year earlier, before her diagnosis.
After dinner, we moved into the living room and I to that couch. As I sat there, comfortable on the uncomfortable couch, silence enveloped me. It was deafeningly loud, in the way only a noiseless truth could be. She was gone.
I said something to my family. Something about listening, or hearing the silence, or maybe just “she’s gone.” I don’t remember. Like Halloween that year, that bit has faded. It didn’t hold the same weight or importance as that moment when I heard the silence and knew our time together was over.
On the day when her fierce spirit left us, my world shifted on its axis.
This week marks 22 years since that day. And no matter what anyone says, the loss never goes away. I am not even sure that it dulls. A loss like that, one felt so acutely, just becomes something that shapes you as a person. Defining moments like that change the makeup of who you are.
What I have to hold onto though are the happy memories from our life together. The lazy summers at the beach, the love of farm stand veggies and the joy of family dinners.
Perfect for family dinners since the kids love these zesty carrots flavored with garlic and parsley, this recipe is begging to be made with the fresh carrots (and garlic!) that are plentiful at farmers markets around the state right now. And, since they take only about 20 minutes to make, they are easy enough for weeknights too.
- 1 lb carrots, peeled
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 tbsp fresh minced parsley
- Cut the carrots into sticks -- ½-inch thick and about 2-inches long. Set aside.
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and softened.
- Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant -- about 1 minute.
- Remove from heat and toss the carrots with the parsley.