Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Things I'll Carry

I'm back.

I'm not all here, though. I'm still grieving, and I know that I will be for a while. My life doesn't quite seem to fit right now; it's like I'm wearing someone else's clothes and everything is just a little too baggy at the seams.

Jason and I are fine when there are people around. It helped that pretty much every day last week, someone from the family or our group of friends came over for a little while. It was easy to get distracted, to not think too much about what the road ahead is going to look like.

But Monday, we were alone all day. And we had way too much time to think about her and her absence. Way too much time to look at the funeral flowers still blooming in our house, to pass by her purse, still in our living room because we still don't know what to do with it, to look at the pictures we pulled for the various tributes done for the funeral. I shed a lot of tears yesterday because so much of what I see reminds me of so much that we lost.

Aside from her purse, and aside from her pictures, there are things Kathie leaves in our home that provide comfort, not sadness. They are the things I'll always carry in my heart, the marks she left on my life. I've known Jason's mom since I was 16 years old; she is a big part of who I am.

These are the things I carry:

1. The Gravy Song

Kathie and her mother were "gravy singers." I love to listen to music and sing while I cook; this is not something I got from my mom, whose preferred pasttime during cooking is to talk on the phone and/or cuss loudly at every little mishap. Kathie kept a music player of some sort in her kitchen, and I do now, too. She didn't just listen to her music as she cooked, though. She sang. When she tried to teach me how to make gravy one night when I was struggling with the concept of turning chicken drippings, flour, and milk into something wonderful, she told me that I had to sing to it. She and her mother sang Jim Reeves's "He'll Have To Go" whenever they made gravy, and apparently, that's the trick to making the chemistry work just right. I don't do gravy very often, but I learned from Kathie that song in general makes the chore of preparing dinner a little more like "me" time.

2. Big Sexy Hair

When I first grew my hair from my post-chemo pixie into a short, layered shag, my stylist reached for the big red can that was so familiar to me from seeing it in my mother-in-law's room: Big Sexy Hair volumizer. I had to laugh; I was going to have Kathie hair. For her funeral Saturday, I reached for that big red can and puffed my hair up into a style that would have made her proud. As her boss said at her wake, "Everyone knew her as the tall, thin lady with the big hair and pretty smile." I don't have the tall and thin part so much, but from time to time I see the value in putting on some big hair and a nice smile.

3. Stephen King

I was a big fan before Kathie and I met, but an even bigger fan after. It was one of the things we bonded over (I think once she learned that I liked Stephen King and watched The Guiding Light, she found me completely acceptable to date her son.) She introduced me to The Talisman, and loaned me her copy, which had been split down the spine and re-taped. She had ripped the book down the middle because she had wanted her husband, Steve, to start reading the book while she was finishing it. We would continue to swap and gift each other books until the very end; the last thing I bought her was the newest Jodi Picoult book for her to read in the hospital. Last night when I picked up my just-purchased copy of Steven King's novel Duma Key, which she loved, it gave me comfort to know we were sharing one last book.

4. A Well-Kept House

Housekeeping is not a skill I picked up as a child. I will admit to being pretty spoiled chore-wise and never being expected to do much more than put my dirty dishes in the sink and give my room a going-over once every couple of weeks. Having a spotless house was just not a priority for my mom. But it was for Jason's. For years I witnessed whole-family housecleaning that involved vacuuming couch cushions (something, sadly, I didn't even know you could do), dragging out a steam cleaner for carpets, and taking liquid Comet to any hard surface that could handle it. Sometimes, just for fun, she would decide she wanted a room painted 12 hours before a party she was having. When Kathie stayed with Jason and me for a few days several years ago, she praised my housekeeping and I glowed from that compliment for weeks. Everything I do around the house now I learned from watching her (and her kids, who she employed like a small army.)

5. Family Dinners That Are About Way More Than the Food

Dinner at Jason's house could be a little intimidating. There were always so darn many of them gathered around the table, and I was always afraid I would get called out for using a "sauce" word. But after the actual food part was over, it was a great time. Stories were told and old songs were sung. Most of the stories I know about Jason and his growing up came from breaking bread with his family. Since I come from a very small family, and because my dad worked second shift and only ate with us on weekends and holidays, I wasn't used to big family dinners where everyone passed the potatoes and the tall tales. Even though now my own family is small, I try to make our nightly dinners the same way, with a little time after the forks have been put down to talk and laugh and spend some time together. And of course, to make fun of each other for sauce words.

I know that soon Jason and his siblings will go through Kathie's belongings and decide who gets to keep what. I remember from doing this with my dad's things that the treasures you keep are those things you want in your home because their presence reminds you of your loved one and some special moment you shared. I feel like Kathie has already given me many treasures. All I have to do is look at the home I've made, the traditions Jason, Ainsley, and I honor, to see her presence in my life.

Thank you, Kathie, for helping to make me the wife and mother I am. And I promise I will keep writing. You liked reading what I had to say, and as long as I have stories to tell, I will tell them and know that somewhere you are listening. And probably singing the gravy song.

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