I was heartsick to hear that my Uncle Allan died last week. Allan was my father’s younger brother, and beyond being my mother’s brother-in-law, he was also a close high school friend of hers. My parents each had one brother. My parents have been dead for a number of years now, and this summer, we lost my Uncle Joe, my mother’s brother. So, Allan closes the “Uncle Chapter” in my life.
I was asked by my cousins if I’d like to write something to be read at the funeral since I would be unable to attend. I decided I would sit at my computer, and in my usual “stream of consciousness” way, start typing and see where it would lead.
I wrote about how my uncle was a deep thinker (former Philosophy Professor), yet a man of action (a fantastic carpenter, gardener, builder, jack-of-all-trades-type of guy). A man who always had multiple projects going at the same time, “and — at least from my young eyes — a tempered calmness that emanated from him like a scent of subtle cologne.”
I also wrote about the challenges he faced when he became a caregiver to his mother (my grandmother). “Grandma Larsen was quite a challenge — obstinate, opinionated, and willful. A chain smoker, she had a wicked sense of humor and a deep gurgling laugh. Now, I would say she had an impish quality to her that to my young self was delightful. But to others — especially Uncle Allan — was exasperating.
Honestly, I think Grandma enjoyed needling him and getting under his skin. Yet poor Uncle Allan always remained unruffled and rational. He just kept at it, taking on the role reversal of parent and child like a pro.”
I closed with this, “Now, with Allan’s passing, this quartet of siblings has shuffled off this mortal coil. Yet, in my mind’s eye, they are in a blissful place.
Yesterday, I had a vision of the four of them. My Uncle Joe probably off chasing a skirt, but my father, my mother, and Uncle Allan together once again, just as they were in high school, having a joyous reunion and dancing...”
It wasn’t my best work, but it was very personal and I think it captured a small piece of Allan’s life in a way that would honor him.
A lovely send-off for anyone who has died is just that, lovely. But for the survivors, what happens the next day, and the next, and the next? It’s not as if the burial ends the story — far from it. The story shifts. It now becomes about the aftermath, coping with grief and getting to the other side of that grief.
In January 2018, I read an article by Monique Minahan, 5 Things Grief Taught Me, that I re-posted for a friend who was in mourning. Minahan writes about lessons she learned from her experience with grief, in her case, the death of someone close who she never reveals. After reading it, I thought her ideas were thoughtful, succinct (never my strong suit), and for me, at least, certainly on-point. Lessons that I instinctively have used in my own grieving process that she articulated in a coherent, yet poetic manner.
When I heard the news about Allan, I immediately thought of my cousins and aunt and the journey in grief that each will take over the coming months and years. I hope this offers some insight and guidance along their respective journeys.
5 Things Grief Taught Me
by Monique Minahan
“Six years inside ‘complicated grief’ taught me many things. Five of them I can put into words and onto paper. I have a feeling I will be learning from ‘her’ the rest of my life.
Grief Taught Me That Sometimes I Don’t Have To Let It Go. I Just Have To Let It Out
Through writing, through words, through movement, through tears, through screaming at the top of my lungs, or whispering to the wind. The way into grief was very narrow, but the way through was up to me.
Grief Taught Me That Releasing Is Not the Same as Relinquishing
My grief is mine forever. When I release her into the world through words or conversation or tears, she is free to leave for a while or return right away — the same or changed — but always welcome in this heart.
Grief Taught Me What It Means To Be Vulnerable
Not in the ways we choose to be vulnerable. The ways life tears down every wall we’ve built, every label we’ve claimed, every role we’ve identified with and reveals a broken, beating heart that is not sure if it wants to live or die.
With practice I realized that beyond the flood of tears there is the dock of another human heart waiting to hear what I have to say. And if I can brave the flood that makes me feel so exposed and vulnerable, I will receive the gift of being seen and being heard.
Grief Taught Me I Am Not Alone
I didn’t realize it then, but looking back, I understand that even when no human could comfort me, Mother Nature was soothing me with her bright moons, wild oceans, and dancing flowers. She was teaching me something about human nature, about darkness and light, about the cycle of life.
She was taking my words and echoing them back to me, blurring their edges on the journey so they sat a little softer in my soul upon returning.
Grief Taught Me Loss Expands Before It Shrinks
The list of what I’ve lost is not just one line but pages long sometimes. Because I didn’t just lose a human being I loved. I lost the sound of their feet in the hallway, the water running as they brush their teeth, the sight of their face down the hall, the sound of their voice on the phone, the ability to reach out and touch them.
Everyone’s list is unique and endless. I try to honor the living by not turning away from their list of loss, by not telling them what it should contain, by not comparing my list to theirs.
This grief, she’s like a mother to me. She birthed me into an experience I never asked for and many times was not sure I would survive. But together we make it through this life, stumbling and learning, mourning and celebrating, each step teaching us all we need to know about what it means to live, to love, and to lose.”
We all must find our way through our own grief — it’s personal, it’s powerful, it’s ours. I especially love her quote, “She was taking my words and echoing them back to me, blurring their edges on the journey so they sat a little softer in my soul upon returning.”
And that’s a blessing that I wish for my family — for Lois, Erik, Kathy, Kurt, and the rest of the Larsen clan — during their time of grieving.
Blessings to all.
Cooking for Joan
I’m a huge Kentucky Derby fan (a sporting event with hats, cocktails, and only lasts two minutes, what’s not to like!) I have had a party in New York for the past 17 years (I missed the last two years due to a wedding anniversary party and a move, respectively). This year, I really wanted to bring the party back in style.
My menu included grilled polenta with avocado mousse, Marzano tomatoes, and cilantro; mushroom cap pizzas; roasted garlic, cambozola and chutney; sugar snap peas and carrots with a spicy peanut dip; pistachio chocolate chip cake; and the anchor dish: Sweet and Sour Meatballs, a staple of cocktail parties from the 70s!
I’ve made these meatballs every year and they’re always a huge crowd-pleaser. The idea came from a “culinary” memory from the late 70s. Our neighbor, Mrs. Farmer, hosted a huge Christmas Party each year and served these meatballs. At the time, I thought they were so elegant and adult, and delicious — my mouth would actually water thinking about them days before the party.
So when it came time for menu-planning 17 years ago, they popped into my mind and have made the cut each and every year! Since I have a few vegetarian friends who were attending, I made two batches — one beef and one with Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs. Both were delicious! Give them a try at your next gathering.
Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Prep Time: 5 min | Cook Time: 14 min | Makes: 6 | Difficulty: Easy
- 1 green pepper, cut in 1" chunks
- 1 sweet onion, cut into 1" chunks
- 1/2 cup Brown Sugar loosely packed
- 1/2 cup Rice Vinegar
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1 tbsp Soy Sauce
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 1/2 cups Pineapple Juice (you add water if you need more liquid)
- 1 tbsp Cornstarch
- 2 bags frozen Party-sized Meatballs
- 1 cup Drained Small Pineapple Chunks
- 2 tbsp Sliced Green Onions for garnish
Lightly sauté peppers and onions
Add brown sugar, vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire and 2 1/4 cups of pineapple juice to a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Bring to a boil.
Mix cornstarch and remaining ¼ cup pineapple juice together in a small bowl, whisking to get out all the lumps.
Whisk into your skillet and add Meatballs.
Bring to a simmer.
Cover and cook 8-10 minutes, until sauce has thickened and the meatballs are heated through.
Stir in pineapple chunks and keep warm until serving
**Grief: image courtesy of by i_strad (2009)