What’s not to love about a man who does dishes? I used to host Thanksgiving on the farm in Hurlock, MD. Keith managed to endear himself to my family very quickly as he commandeered the kitchen to scrub up the pile of plates, pots, pans, and utensils while the rest of us struggled to move away from the table with our densely stuffed stomachs. At my grandparent’s birthday party, Aunt Jan caught him over the sink, scrubbing away, and proclaimed “he’s a keeper”.
The crazy notion of once again hosting a large Thanksgiving dinner grabbed a hold of me this year. It has been met with a mixed bag of emotions. I haven’t fired up the kitchen like this in almost 7 years and I’m thrilled to pull out the mixer and fire up the oven and root around in the pantry for feast day treats. This is also the last holiday Keith was with me.
I know he got an ear full yesterday as his corn fed, farm raised wife did her suburban duty and raked all the leaves out of the front yard. A task he took great pride in doing and insisted the whole family pitch (or rake) in to get every annoying piece of tree debris to the curb. Meanwhile, the entire time I’m raking away, I’m thinking that this practice is a perfectly good waste of time, energy and natural compost.
As I made my late night run to the grocery store, I could feel the weight of his absence. I wouldn’t return from the store tonight with the list he had given me. I wouldn’t be met at the car with an extra hand to carry everything in. I wouldn’t walk into the house embracing all the pre-Thanksgiving prep smells of onions and garlic and spices. I tried to replace a light over the kitchen sink but the fixture seems to be broken. Keith would have been able to get it running with a stick of gum, a toothpick, and rubber band.
One more milestone, one more step towards learning how to live in this life after Keith. There is room in my soul to both grieve and be thankful. I am thankful that I will have my family around me tomorrow. A family full of warmth, strength and love. I am thankful for my friends near and far, long standing and new, that have lifted me up in ways I don’t think they could ever fathom. All of you are my anchor keeping me in safe harbors, my light chasing away the shadows. I am thankful that for a short time, I walked through life with a man worthy of all the love I could give him and he, in turn, loved me deeply. These gifts I carry with me may not get the dishes done or the leaves raked or the turkey cooked, but in this strange new world I now inhabit, they are everything that matters.
it was a year ago today that Keith spent his first night in a hospital. Halloween rolled around as usual and this holiday that he always embraced was met with an eerie silence last year. We decided to hide in the sunroom from the trick-or-treaters. Keeping all the lights off, even in our hideout, Keith shivered in the dark under his winter coat. He couldn’t warm up and after a check of his temperature, it became obvious why. He was running a temperature of 104. Off we went to the ER and he was admitted shortly after midnight. In the dark of the room with him shivering on the couch I felt for the first time a true feeling of dread that all those horror movies I love to watch couldn’t quite match.
This Halloween, I marched down to the local Target and blew $75.00 on candy in every shape and flavor in true Keith style. I used to give him so much grief about buying all that candy so he put me in charge of buying and handing out treats one year. It was met with disaster. I ran out in 20 minutes, started raiding the pantry for the granola bars, then started handing out nickles, until finally I had no choice but to turn off the porch light and admit defeat – 45 minutes into trick-or-treating. The whole time Keith hung out in the office, laughing at my predicament and telling me “I told you so”.
A good friend of my son recently choose to take her own life. He’s reeling from the shock and I don’t know how to make it any better for him. He decided to skip Halloween all together this year. I liken it to my announcement in January that I’m canceling Christmas. We all set sail into life. We are all Captains of our own ship. What makes some of us send an ax into our own hull while others fight the oncoming storm? I don’t know. I do know that we can only go down with our own ship. We can throw the life ring to others but they still have to choose to cling to it, and even then we may find ourselves watching as they slowly lose their grip, slip away from us into the dark depths where we can not follow.
After the last trick-or-treater left last night, and I had turned off the porch light, I stepped into the dark sunroom. TV on, electric fireplace going, my mom sitting on the couch just as Keith had a year ago. I had eaten entirely too much candy and couldn’t sit still. I especially couldn’t sit still in that room, remembering how I put his shoes on, zipped up his coat, and coaxed him to the car. I had throw the life ring, and he hung on with every ounce of strength he could muster but it wasn’t enough. So I went outside and just stood there. After hurricane Sandy had rolled through, there was a quiet hush to the air. We weathered the storm like champs and I keep on sailing. Keith did a good job of training me to survive on my own – at least in the Halloween candy department.