On a Wednesday in September 2001, my mother, Joan, passed away unexpectedly in upstate New York. She was only 66 years old. I was in my office in midtown Manhattan when I got the call from my sister, Lisa. The sense of sickening dread and the overwhelming feelings of confusion and non-acceptance of the facts that I experienced still dwell in the back of my mind to this day. What made it even more painful was the timing. I was heading upstate in a week to spend time with my family and attend my sister-in-law Erin’s 30th birthday party — I missed seeing my mother for the last time by one week, just one lousy week.
I flew to Syracuse that night and over the next few days, my family and I tended to the arrangements and tried to console one another as best as we could. I decided to stay for the week and would return to NYC after the birthday party. But, the Universe was not quite done.
On Tuesday morning, Matt, my brother, ran into my room, shook me awake and said, “We’re being attacked!” I was in a drowsy state and for some strange reason my mind went to a vision of being attacked by bees or birds — it was the “country” after all. But no, that Hitchcockian plot was not in the cards. That day was September 11th, a day that needs no explanation.
As you can imagine, the double blow of the death of my mother and the senseless murder of thousands of my fellow New Yorkers and all the others was devastating to me. Over the following months, my mind could find no sanctuary, no place to rest. When I was able to banish thoughts of my mother’s death, inevitably, thoughts of the attack on my hometown and the entire tragedy of that day would take their place. I vacillated between numbness and hypersensitivity. I truly could not envision a day that I would be able to move beyond the pain, shock, and sadness.
This leads me to my theme for today — I’m writing about a simple, yet-oh-so powerful phrase in the Universe — “This Too Shall Pass.” Nothing in life remains the same; everything is temporary. “This Too Shall Pass” applies in good times — mostly as a reminder to enjoy the wonderful moments while they last — but, more importantly, in the bad.
When something awful happens, we tend to think our feelings and emotions concerning the incident will last forever, and it’s difficult to imagine a future where we feel differently. Yet, each of us can look back on a dark time and see that the sting of anguish has softened, and lost all, or most, of its power. If we can remember that a hardship will pass, we can endure in a way that helps ease our distress and enables us to envision a brighter future.
A study on older couples — those who had been married for decades — 6 months after losing their spouse was conducted by George A. Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University. The study found that the core symptoms of grief — anxiety, depression, shock, intrusive thoughts — had lifted by six months after the loss for 60 percent of the participants. And, as time went by, the majority returned to a normal psychological state. This in no way infers that the participants did not miss their respective deceased spouses, rather happiness did return to their lives in a relatively short amount of time, and their level of unhappiness was not as devastating as many would imagine.
The memories of painful events in your life will, of course, resurface from time to time. Sometimes, so unexpectedly, that they can stop you in your tracks. But the truth is, the intense sting will have dissipated and the mental “scars” will continue to fade.
In the years since that September in 2001, I’ve relied on This “Too Shall Pass” to get me through the memories of that difficult time. Now, I still have moments of sadness, but they wash over me as a dull ache rather than a sharp pain. I’ve also used the phrase to get me through other challenges and trials — and believe me, there have been some real doozies! On the flip side, though, I’ve been able to call upon its power to more deeply enjoy the good times, as they too are fleeting.
Time does heal all wounds, and we all have an infinite capacity to heal, adapt, and move on. Yes, This Too Shall Pass.
TIME TO DINE: Cooking for Joan
Since I was writing a post about my mother and my cookbook is called Cooking for Joan, I had to include one of her recipes or one inspired by her. When I went into my database, I realized that I still had a lot of recipes to manually add, and the few that I had added, I’ve already used in previous posts. I also wanted to use a summer-inspired recipe.
Last night, I was cleaning out my fridge and came across some mandarin oranges that I’d bought to make an Asian chicken salad with spicy Thai vinaigrette. That triggered a memory of one of my family’s favorite summer desserts — Orange Jello with Mandarin slices — or as we laughingly called, “Refreshing,” because, well, it was!
Straight from the 1970s, the recipe consisted of Jello, canned Mandarin oranges, Cool-Whip, and a mold — so simple, yet so “Refreshing.” Instead of including the exact recipe, I’ve updated it slightly but the soul of “Refreshing” remains. Enjoy!
Whipped Jello Mandarin Orange Mousse
Prep Time: 1 hr | Cook Time: 10 min | Makes: Serves: 8 | Difficulty: Easy
- 1 large box orange Jell-O (8 servings)
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 6-ounce can mandarin oranges in juice, drained, juice reserved
- Water and ice
Place reserved mandarin orange juice in a 2-cup measuring cup. Add water to fill to the 2-cup line. Heat water/juice to boiling. Remove from heat and stir in gelatin powder, stirring until dissolved. Move mixture to a large measuring cup or bowl.
Add one cup of ice to a 2-cup measuring cup. Add water to the ice to bring the level to the 2-cup mark. Pour ice/water into the gelatin mixture and stir until ice has melted.
Place gelatin in the refrigerator until the mixture is partially gelled. It should be firm enough that it won’t spill out of the container, but will not hold its shape well when lifted with a spoon.
Meanwhile, combine whipping cream and powdered sugar in a mixer with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high until firm peaks form. Store covered in refrigerator until ready to use.
Use an electric mixer to break up the gelatin mixture until mixture is very loose and no longer holding its shape. Add HALF of the whipped cream and most of the mandarin oranges (reserve about 8 nice ones for garnish) and beat just enough to blend everything together.
Pour into eight dessert glasses and chill until firm.
Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and a mandarin orange.
**image by Rain-shade