Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Things People Say…

I hate to nitpick about what I’ve heard or read over the last several months from so many well-meaning persons. I hate to nitpick because what is worse than saying the “wrong” or weird thing is saying nothing. (I’ve been sadly and profoundly surprised and disappointed by several persons from whom I’ve heard diddly-squat.) Saying or writing something definitely beats saying or writing nothing at all.

I have kept all the cards sent to us since Brandon’s death, most arriving in June and then slowly dropping through mid-July. I both looked forward to and hated the daily mail. I appreciated knowing that each card sender acknowledged the immensity of Brandon’s death while I also felt completely “creeped out,” because the arrival of the daily mail forced me back from my brief vacations to the land of Denial. I opened and read each card, and I fit each in the overflowing basket with all the rest. Now, several months later, I tell myself every Sunday that this is the week I’ll go through all the cards again, and every week (so far) I've failed to find the courage to do so.

The crammed card basket that I'm afraid to face a second time

Here’s where I get nitpicky even though I know you mean well. I really do. And I really hate to sound ungrateful, but you wished or prayed that I feel “peace,” “comfort,” “healing.” If you’re a parent, do you really think you might experience any of those feelings if that feeling pertained to the death of any of your babies? Really? I will never see Brandon in this life again. I will never see those amazing and alive brandy-colored eyes. I will never see that shit-eating grin. I will not get to watch him grow older. He will not be here to support and love his wife. He will not be here for his daughter’s entire life – no evolving hugs and kisses from an adoring toddler, dismissive teenager or reconnected adult child; no celebrating his daughter’s birthdays, no praising her for good grades, no coaching her in soccer, no teaching her to drive, no warning her dates that he’s watching, no nostalgia and pride as he walks her down the aisle.

Unless you can bring my “baby” back to us, and I know you can’t, please don’t talk or write to me of peace, comfort, healing. Ever. I’m working to accept. I’m trying really hard to remember that the Creator’s time is different than measly human time. I’m doing my best moment to moment, and some moments are better and some worse.

But heal? Be comforted? Feel peace about his death? No can do. Don’t wish or pray it. Don’t expect it for or of me. Ever.

I’ve kept two cards displayed on the table next to the card basket. Neither suggests this is an event that will resolve in feelings of peace, comfort or healing. They acknowledge the enormity of this particular grief and they imply support or solidarity.

 Card: Angel of Grief (1895) photographed by Michael H. McKann (2007)

Support and Solidarity

Want to say or write something to me that has meaning? (And just to confuse you, each parent who has lost a child to death is different. Some may find messages of peace, comfort and healing to be uplifting. I’m just not one of them.) Tell me you “get” that you don’t understand. Share a memory. Say you’re sorry. Or simply acknowledge that there really are no words…

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Thanksgiving is here, which means the holiday season is officially upon us. Can’t say I’m really looking forward to the next month. In fact, at times I dread the next several weeks. But even when I feel I’d rather keep the holidays from coming, I’d be no more successful than the Grinch who found “it came just the same.”

Brandon was a gourmet cook, and he went all out for two annual occasions. One of them was the fourth Thursday of November. More than once, he said, “Mom, you know Thanksgiving is ‘my thing’!” And it was. There was the year he smoked the turkey. There was the year he deep-fried the turkey. (I thought he or someone else was going to end up with a bad burn that year, and based on the William Shatner/StateFarm "Eat, Fry, Love" video, it seems my concerns were well founded!)  There were the years of various pre-cooking “rubs.” Then he discovered brining!

Brandon in the kitchen

My job always was to make the dressing/stuffing. Brandon would show up to help me stuff, finish prepping, and get the big, heavy bird into (and later out of) the oven. Once the roasted bird was out of the oven, Brandon taught us to let the bird “rest” for 20 or 30 minutes or so, and it was Brandon who would carve it (all the while making jokes about the pathetic culinary knives we had available) and create a beautiful presentation of the sliced poultry.

Brandon and I both believe(d) that the Thanksgiving main dish should be a fresh – never frozen – turkey once we discovered how much better a fresh turkey retains its “juices.” Each year one or the other of us would head to the Tewes Poultry Farm two to three days before Thanksgiving to choose the perfect-sized bird. Then a couple of years ago a friend of mine raised turkeys, took them to a farm that was state-approved to butcher poultry a few days before Thanksgiving, and I bought a bird from her. Brandon was gung-ho about the farm butcher business and decided the next time my friend raised turkeys that he and I would accompany her when the turkeys “bought the farm”!

My friend didn’t raise turkeys last year, so Brandon went to Tewes; however, this year she  again raised Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner turkeys. It was too late for Brandon to be part of this year’s entourage to the farm for the butchering process, but I still wanted to go and support our turkeys. As it happened, I was to watch Brandon and Christina’s daughter Morgan on the day chosen as the turkeys' date with destiny. Morgan, my friend and I followed her husband and son, who was driving the pick-up truck carrying the crate of turkeys. From the baby backpack, Morgan seemed more interested in the farm family dogs than in the turkey process.

I felt Brandon with me the entire morning. He had a gift for being completely comfortable wherever he was, so he would have immersed himself in the visit to the farm. He would have loved meeting the family and watching how each member had a role in the butchering business. I could hear him asking questions, requesting to participate in the process, and talking knives as the women cleaned the turkey carcasses and cut out the giblets.

I took two smaller turkeys for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner because Brandon won’t be here to help get one giant bird in and out of the hot oven. He won’t be here to nudge his dad aside to take over the carving and presentation or me aside to take over the roux and gravy making. He won’t be here physically when we toast the legacy of our special chef.

Yet this year I give thanks for the years we were blessed to have Brandon with us. I give thanks that I was given the gift of being his mother. I give thanks for the lessons – cooking and otherwise – Brandon taught us. I give thanks for his sisters and brothers and for the gift I was given of being the mother of each of these special individuals. I give thanks for his wife and the gift of his adorable daughter, and I give thanks for each of my children’s chosen partners and the gift of each of the wonderful grandchildren they’ve brought into our family’s lives. I give thanks that Brandon let us walk with him through the highs and lows of his illness with its dark and light places. And I give thanks for the gift of being with him as he and his body, which had had its start within my own body, parted.

This Thanksgiving is so bittersweet. Memories of last year’s and other Thanksgivings are both genuinely joyful and profoundly painful all at the same time. After joking with a couple of guys in the elevator of the nearby fitness club this morning, both of them wished me “Happy Thanksgiving” as they stepped out a floor ahead of me. Until that moment I’d thought I was fine but, before the elevator doors had a chance to close again, tears were rolling down my cheeks. How we all loved watching Brandon doing “his thing” and tasting the results! How much we all miss him even as we do our best to butcher, brine, roast, carve, present and toast in a manner that does him proud… 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Floundering in an Uncharted Sea

It was not a good last week. After a wonderful first weekend of November with friends and an enjoyable speaking engagement, I spent much of the last week crying. I don’t know why but I felt as if I was physically and emotionally breaking into pieces. Either I saved my tears for when I was alone, or alone time was also time to think and thinking led to tears. I don’t know why it hit hard last week. Since I had a similar week after returning from Italy, I wondered if one must make up for any time spent pleasantly diverted. I don’t know if that’s true or not, as I feel as if I’m floundering in uncharted waters.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt myself to be in floundering in uncharted waters. When our “identical” third and fourth children were born 10 minutes apart, I definitely had “floundering” feelings and, although an “experienced” mother of two, I also felt I’d been pushed into a very unfamiliar sea. However, the last time I could see the shore, and sometimes others saw me and helped keep me afloat.  Of course, sometimes they seemed to think I was cruising when I felt as if I was barely keeping my head above water. Still, it was a “happy” sea and, eventually, I found other mothers of twins who showed me better ways to tread water while still giving each of my twins what he needed.

This time I feel I’m floundering alone and, I think, that may be how I want it or maybe there is no other way to survive this sea. This time I cannot see a shore. I may be near it or I may be far out to sea. There are no landmarks, no buoys. Others who love Brandon and who I love deeply are also floundering in this sea. Sometimes I see them; sometimes I don’t. Sometimes we touch; sometimes we seem close yet unable to reach one another; I want to help but I have no skills to share for navigating this sea. And sometimes I see no one else and have no idea whether one or more others can see me. My usual coping mechanisms seem to be completely inadequate.

I don’t think the last week was simply about pleasant diversion “make-up” time. This past Saturday, November 10, the Brandon C. Gromada Head and Neck Cancer Foundation was one of 159 charity beneficiaries of The Rusty Ball. I both looked forward to it and hated the idea of it all at the same time. How do I explain how creepy the anticipation of this event made me feel when at the same time I felt grateful that this event could raise funds to fight the f’n disease that robbed Brandon of his time on this earth? There are no words to describe or explain this…

At the November 10th Rusty Ball in Brandon's Beastie Boys T-shirt with 3 of my 4 sisters 
Anne, me, Betsy & Kathy