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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Mourning

Yesterday, I was in the living room playing doll houses and Hot Wheels simultaneously. Yes, that's possible; after several years of cooking with an infant in one arm, typing while nursing, vacuuming while playing indoor hopscotch, and other types of multi-tasking, playing two different sedentary games in the same room is easier than talking on the phone and to my preschooler at the same time.

Anyway, we were happily playing along when I heard an ominous crash from the kitchen. It was one of those multi-layered, item decimating, drawn-out, smashing, shattering, why oh why did we choose to install tile on the kitchen floor? type crashes. I instantly felt a heavy foreboding in my gut.

"Are you okay in there?" I called out to Husband, even as I knew that the dread I felt was not a premonition that he was hurt.

"Yes," he replied stiffly.

Somehow I knew that the spreading sickening feeling was not a fear for his safety. I dashed towards the kitchen, calling out "What broke?" as I went.

And then I stopped just short of the doorway. Fanned across the floor were pieces of copper colored crockery. Many many many pieces. Instantly, I knew. I looked around, trying to comprehend the quantity of pieces, as Husband fumbled with his words, "I was just trying to organize the shelves up here, and..."

...and my anger welled up. Throwing a green Hot Wheel across the dining room, too roughly pushing my barefoot children out of the way of the shivers of glaze and shards of stoneware that littered the floor, I walked into the kitchen, stood in the middle of the mess, and utterly shocked myself by bursting into gut-wrenching sobs. I stood there, helpless amongst the ruins of my dead grandmother's dinnerware, and bawled as though I just lost the beloved woman herself. With heaving shoulders, I wept and wept and wept. Over three broken coffee cups.

Apparently spying a handle on the floor, my perceptive Son said, "Mama, you loved that cup, didn't you?" And the empathy of my preschoolers brought tears to their own eyes as they contemplated their heart-broken mother, crying over crockery. Refusing to stay out of the ceramic minefield, they surrounded me, hugging my legs, leaning small heads against my body, mutely offering their love, and sympathy for a grief they did not understand.

Hugging them back, I led them more gently out of the room, explaining that they could cut their feet on the tiny bits, and then I started picking up pieces. Husband went to throw them in the trashcan, until I stopped him with a reminder that they would simply slice through the bag. So we piled them on the counter. He kept apologizing, sounding so guilty. Hot fat tears oozed down my cheeks throughout the time it took me to vacuum the floor, the entrance to the dining room, and its carpet.

Thirty-six hours later, I still cannot bring myself to throw the pieces away.

These dishes belonged to my grandparents for nearly 50 years. They are Russell Wright "Casual China," made in the 1950s. The set for eight came to me with nary a chip in it -- dinner plates, salad plates, coffee cups and saucers, a stacking sugar bowl/creamer, a gorgeous coffee carafe. There is an oval serving platter, a divided serving bowl, and one bowl, about the right size for a large soup lunch, which my grandfather used every morning for his cereal -- used so often that the glaze on this bowl is matte where the rest of the dishes are still glossy.

There have been a few casualties to the set since I got it. One plate inexplicably snapped in half one evening, as I was drying it. One nice straight line right down the middle. *crack* And one plate now has a chip in the edge due to some overzealous stacking.

And then through the random kindness of strangers, I was actually given two new dinner plates in this hard-to-find color by a lovely woman named Sophia who owned a little bakeshop and breakfast place. And the set was once again complete.

But now, I have three broken coffee cups.

Lovely, smooth, and round, these cups are just the right size for after-dinner sipping. Every time I pull them out, I think of the grandmother who so lovingly held her hand to my tight, growing belly, hoping to feel the kicks of Son, to connect with the infant who would become her only great-grandson.

She passed away when I was eight months pregnant.

I did not go to the funeral. Technically, I could have. My doctor told me I could make the trip so long as I identified the nearest hospital ahead of time, and because I was on the smallish size for a very pregnant woman, the airlines might not have known I was pushing their "no flying after 36 weeks" rule. But I was too timid to make the flights and be in a strange city so close to my due date. Truth be told, I think I was also too timid to face that much grief at that particular moment in my life. The day I found out she had died unexpectedly the night before, the baby (I didn't know Son was a boy until he was born) flipped and squirmed, wriggled and writhed, all day long in paroxysms that mirrored my own heavy grieving. I didn't think I could do that to my child or myself without pause for funeary days, or risk delivering in a city that was no longer my own. And so I stayed behind, wrote a memorial for my sister to read, and quietly said my goodbyes as I was preparing to say hello to the new life I carried within.

Suddenly, yesterday, it was as if some unspent grief caught up with me. In the face of the shards of her coffee cups, I sobbed for the grandmother who never got the chance to meet my children, for the woman who made me peanut butter cookies after school, who helped me learn to sew, who passed on her favorite cookbook, her quiet thoughtfulness, her love.

And then, today, I though to take a photograph. One of a whole cup. And it made me feel somewhat more at peace. I still don't know what I will do with the fragments of the three cups that became smithereens on our kitchen floor yesterday.

But today I know, I will choose to remember the five more I still have that are whole. The memories I have of her that are wonderful. Mourning her passing, our loss, I will myself also to recall all the richness that she has left behind.


Twenty Four At Heart said...

I have a box of old antique "knick knacks" from my grandmother. I don't do anything with them, but I have them and I know they are there. If they were destroyed for any reason I would mourn their loss. They are a piece of her life and I cherish them. I'm sorry about your cups.

Twenty Four At Heart said...

By the way - FIRST (and second)!!!

3 Crazy Irishmen said...

I, too, lost my grandmother before she could meet two of my children. And before my oldest could have any memory of her at all. Make a mosaic from the shards, just a little frame or something, just for you, maybe for a photo of the two of you.

calicobebop said...

So sorry for your loss. I think that 3 Crazy Irishmen's idea is wonderful! I hope that the rest of your pieces remain intact!

Kim said...

I am sitting here with tears in my eyes for you.. I am sorry for the cups breaking, but your son was the one that made me cry. They really are sooo perceptive for such little people..


supertiff said...

i have only two little plates that belonged to my grandmother, and one of them broke in half 2 years ago. the two pieces are still sitting on the bookshelf next to my desk as i type this.

you should DEFINITELY make a frame or something out of those pieces!

CaJoh said...

So sorry for your loss (in more ways than one). I like the mosaic idea— perhaps you can make a picture frame with the shards on the outside and put a picture of her in it.

LceeL said...

Take those pieces and put them in a box. Then, on days when you're feeling blue or just missing her or someone else who is close, pull out the box and start gluing the pieces back together. Slowly. Let it take many sessions. Let it mean something.

Daisy said...

Lump in throat; I'm glad you're coping, remembering the wonderful woman she was.

MommyTime said...

Thank you all for your very thoughtful suggestions. I AM going to save the pieces, Lceel -- and whether I reassemble the cups or make them into something new (a process she would have appreciated), I will cherish the memories they bring up. And I so appreciate all of your kind words. Happy New Year!

Misty said...

What about placing the broken pieces in an old mason/canning jar and keeping it? It would be hard for me to throw some thing so special away - - broken or not.

Lipstick said...

This is an absolutely beautiful post. I cried along as I read. When Mr. Lipstick brought my grandfather's tractor home to me, I held on to it and wept for a long time. I wanted to post about it, but I just cried too much. I really admire you for writing about this.

Jaina said...



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