For over two years, I had a steadfast companion: Gardetto's snack mix. Sounds crazy, I know, but for the first year after my father died, that was all I could eat. The second year, they were always around in the house, and almost like a safety net; I went to them when I was sad or stressed, which was most of the time. They sat next to me in the TV room in case I needed a handful. Although, I never ate them by the handful but instead one at a time, focusing on the individual textures of each. It was a time of focus away from the reality of my father's death and frankly, my own feelings. You might think I gained weight from eating such awful food; in fact, because it was the ONLY food I ate, I lost a lot of weight.
For over two years there has ALWAYS been a bag of Gardetto's in the house. Last week I noticed the bag had been opened for a long time, sitting in the kitchen cabinet. I had been moving it around to access other stuff. And by now, I am sure they were very stale. It seemed a momentous, important moment when I took them out of the kitchen cabinet and threw them in the garbage. I stood there, not sure what to feel for minutes after. Memories of the comfort they provided, the relationship we shared, the role they played in helping me with grief. I remember reading in Joan Didion's book "The Year of Magical Thinking" that she ate the same food every day for weeks, maybe months because it served a purpose. Reading this helped me a lot; I didn't feel so crazy that I had my Gardetto's. Karl always knew that there had to be a bag in the house. He watched out for me, and through his observations at this time, realized these snacks were a big deal.
When I threw away the half -filled open bag, I felt a shift in me. Perhaps part of my grieving was over. It wasn't a celebration or even a moment of happiness. I stood there, wondering why I no longer needed Gardetto's to be in the house. What was the shift? What was my next step in the grieving process if I no longer had a sort of ritualized food? How would grief affect me next? For a couple of days I thought about this, trying to see a pattern or a new path, or a new understanding. GRIEF DOESN'T GIVE A LOT OF INFORMATION WHEN ASKED. And so I began getting comfortable without my ritual food. I cooked a few meals. I tried different foods as substitutes to my ultimate comfort food. Whoopie Pies. They are fattening. OUT. Hot chai? This stays. I have one every morning at home as I get ready for the day. And now there are FLAVOR BLAST Goldfish. Ah, now I've found the replacement. Does it mean I've taken a step backward, needing the crutch of a particular food? And WHY CAN'T I CRAVE FRUIT? WHY DOESN'T FRUIT DO IT FOR ME? I have no answer.
I have my father's picture in my bedroom, and in the TV room; two places I am often in. Several times in an evening, I look over to his picture--the one of him outside on a Saturday morning, after taking my sister and I out for a hike on our property--his smile, his eyes, that knit cap he wore make his presence so real to me. In my bedroom, his picture is the professional portrait used at his job--suit, tie, confident smile. Every time I enter and exit the room I say out loud, "Hey, Dad." And when I leave, usually after I've dressed for work, I say, also out loud, "Well, I'm off, Dad. Love you."
I am functioning well, having good days at work, keeping focused on what needs to be done. I enjoy teaching, and am thankful it is my profession. It is when I come home that I unravel...not to the extent I used to, but I shed the day quickly--taking out contact lenses, taking off make up, putting on pajamas or sweats. And I head into the TV room, where I inevitably search for three things: both cats, for cuddle opportunities, and the picture of my dad. It's a safe space. And while I do not keep my Flavor Blasted Goldfish in the TV room, I often bring some in with me. I eat them slowly, one at a time, literally savoring each one. I listen to the sounds made by my cats' dreams; I hear their breathing, slow and deep. Peaceful. I look to my dad's picture and smile at him.
There is still virtually no social life for me, and I am still comfortable with it. Perhaps the real me, the introvert, has come fully to the surface. I don't have the strength to push it away, or play over it. It takes so much energy to be at school, interacting with so many people, and leading my students, I have nothing left over for more socializing --and that's okay. I work at home, reading emails, catching up on Facebook, watching fine films. My husband, a social butterfly, is getting hired, a lot, for gigs in the area. He's now playing a month-long run of a musical theatre production--he's gone most nights until after I go to bed. I am not saying this to garner any kind of sympathy; I like the quiet time to myself. The quiet is no longer a void being filled by crying. It is now a soothing time, personal time for me reflect on the day. Sometimes my aunt and I talk on the phone, catching up. We are both still grieving. We both answer the same way to the question, "How are you?" "Okay, not great, but okay." She's not reaching out to her past social life, either.
It will be three years since my father's death when the new year strikes. That will mean that according to the experts, I'll be more than half way through my five year grief period. Looking back, I have come a long way since that phone call from the hospital. But, to this day, I shiver when the phone rings. I want to shut off the ringer. I don't answer if I don't know the number. So much bad news has come through this phone number, it's a fearsome thing when it shrieks.
Flavor Blasted Goldfish are delicious. They are small bites, full of cheesy goodness and salt. I drink more water than I have in years. This is good. I did make chicken soup from scratch this week, and it turned out great! I also made a couscous salad with dried cranberries, almonds, and chicken. Tonight will be a dinner, too, because Karl will be home tonight. I have resolved to cook and eat fresh food when Karl's home for dinner. It's a step, a big step. It's the Next Step. The next step toward the feeling whole again. I don't know if I'll ever again experience it, but at least I sense the possibility. :o)
My niece had an assignment in her 4th grade class: Who inspires you? She had to fill out a form of sorts, describing why this person inspired her. She chose me. ME. This little girl, who I held non stop for the first three weeks of her life, called me her hero, because I always tell her I love her, I send her a lot of cards, and I send her presents. I've also taught her "a little about planes." (I've always tried to show her where I live and how I am able to visit her, through flying in planes). This bright, shiny, articulate little girl attached herself to my heart the moment I held her for the first time. And now I know I am a part of her heart, too. I sense the possibility of feeling whole because of my niece.
I might send her some Flavor Blasted Goldfish in her next care package, along with more addressed and stamped envelopes/cards, and a recent picture of me. It's easy to do because I'm head over heels in love with this little fairygirl, and I want to fill the void of our losses. We've lost the same people.
Part of my grief abating is that I am focusing on people that are here. I am needed. I am loved. And if Flavor Blasted Goldfish are my accompaniments through this next bit, so be it. <3 p="p">3>
- In this blog I have created a haven, a place I allow my deepest emotions to go and sit. I can write easily about what I’ve accomplished. This biography I can recite in my sleep. But I’ve always written poetry and in diaries since I was a teenager. I continued to write poetry in my journals, and not until 2006 did I show them to anyone. I generally write every day, at the present in memoir form. I haven’t written poetry since my mother died in January, 2007. I didn’t write at all between her death and the death of my father three years later in January, 2010. On my father’s birthday in March, 2010, I began this blog, to honor my father and to help me grieve. But I also desperately needed to write, and this stream of conscious style emerged. I needed to find my organic voice.