The Best Part of a Sad Time

Here’s the best part of the end of a happy-sad week of remembering, celebrating, crying and hugging to honor my grandmother–I am still stuffed from grazing all day, each day on rotisserie chicken, HoneyBaked Ham, deviled eggs made with Hellman’s and plenty of mustard, the freshest of fruit salads, and every kind of cheese and cold cut, all laid out on a sun-bleached, 125-year-old-plus table that will soon be in my dining room. I ate when I was hungry and I ate when I wasn’t. I also slept quite a lot–not my usual fitful five-to-six hours, but a sound sleep with dreams and no dreams that spanned nine-to-ten hours in a plush bed in an inn room that had a fireplace and a balcony that overlooked the San Juan Islands. It was the perfect spot to come home to each night.

Here’s the best part of dining out in a small town with plenty of great restaurants to keep both the locals and the tourists satiated–you cannot have a bad meal, and the service matches the quality of the food. I ate shrimp and Copper River salmon and would have had it all again the next night and the next, except we had all the other food at my grandmother’s house. I hardly had to convince my aunt to tip 25 percent because it was all just that great, and I would happily return to two spots to dine tomorrow.

Here’s the best part of cleaning out a house of a beloved grandmother who saved everything–I found an unopened box of paperclips circa 1950 that could be displayed in a living-history museum. I also found an intricately woven box with straps, opened it, and read my grandmother’s note explaining that this was her grade-school lunch box “made by the Indians.” Then I found a huge envelope filled with letters from my own mother to my grandparents, my mother who had died four years ago, and was given the gift of insight into her life in the 1960s and 1970s that I had never had before.

I witnessed the absolute best and worst of family dynamics, and then felt the need to call both my son and daughter every day to feel the touch of their love as I listened to their voices over a spotty cellphone connection. I hand-wrote volumes on legal pads and on my inn’s stationery because I left my computer behind at home. It took forever and I can barely decipher half of it, but it kept me grounded when I was alone in my beautiful room each night.

Here’s what I learned this week: I am made of stronger stuff than I imagined, and I will think twice before I toss out a cute card from a friend, my children, whomever. Because some day, someone will have to clean out my house when I am gone, and I hope that they have the same happy-sad time as they sort through it all, and that they receive the same gifts of memories and surprises that I did this past week.

I cannot thank all of you enough who sent such warm and heartfelt comments and email on the evening of and the days that followed my grandmother’s passing. She loved this blog, although she only read it in a printed-out form as often as I could send it to her. She never owned a microwave oven, much less a computer. But she eagerly awaited my FedEx package of new installments.

Stay tuned for a funny story about the ultimate VIP on my flight home. For now, I am simply happy to be home, well fed and rested, and ready for what’s next.






16 responses to “The Best Part of a Sad Time”

  1. Kris Avatar

    Bless your heart, Gal. You’ve been in my thoughts.

  2. Julie Avatar

    Once again, I’m sorry for your loss.

    When my mom passed away, I stayed with my brother and sister-in-law for a week. Until then, I don’t think we had spent more than two nights under the same roof since I was 12. I was reminded that my big brother is really a good guy and we helped each other through the tough decisions. I also found out that my mom was more comfortable talking over her wishes when she died with me than with him. (Or maybe he was less comfortable than I am.) I had helped her with the arrangements when my grandmother passed away, and led my big bro through the planning when mom passed.

    I’d like to think that they’re all up in heaven, sipping tea or coffee or whatever they enjoyed here. Maybe smoking a cigarette. And they’re laughing at all the things we do.

  3. Bill Avatar

    Welcome back, you were missed. It’s crazy, isn’t it, how you learn so much about loved ones after they’re gone. Sometimes, it’s hilarious. Sometimes, just confusing. So far, I usually walk away from funerals strangely happy, since that seems to be the only time the family gets together from the far corners of this big ole country. Take care.

  4. Bill Avatar

    By the way, good luck with the new restaurant and job. But don’t think about it until Monday (If that’s when you’re going back).

  5. Aaron DeLay Avatar

    Good to have you back Gal.

  6. Kim Ayres Avatar

    Good to have you back and I’m really glad you managed to find happy moments.

    I know what ou mean about the frustration of writing by hand. I have an appaling time trying to decipher my scrawl afterwards.

  7. […] The Best Part Of Sad Time  […]

  8. Emerald Avatar

    I wish I’d known you’d be out this way! I’m so sorry for your loss. I am pleased as well you found some enjoyment and insight in a sad period. It’s difficult not to enjoy yourself in the San Juan islands.

  9. caramaena Avatar

    Welcome back. I’m glad you were able to find happy memories at such a sad time. I’m sure your memories of your grandmother will be that much more meaningful.

  10. Brave Astronaut Avatar

    Glad to have you back. We have all missed you. I know what you are going through. It has been a little over a year since my mother’s passing and much of that time has been spent disseminating the “treasures” of the family among my siblings and me.

    This continued this weekend when I was in NY to hold a huge yard sale of things we no longer needed (or told my father he didn’t). He is moving to a smaller house and did not need those ugly marble tables. It was hard to clean out a house that is the one that you grew up in and the only one you ever came home to. I feel somewhat adrift.

    I understand about the writing as well. I only really started being serious about my novel when my mother got really sick. It is now about 150 typed double-spaced pages. I wonder if it has a chance.

    Warm thoughts to you.

  11. jali Avatar

    I’m glad you found the treasures in the house as well a a few moments of happiness while you were there.

  12. LauraMac Avatar

    This is the first time I’ve come across your blog, and I had tears in my eyes reading this post. The intersection of food with birth and death and life is timeless and you can be sure that 90 some odd years ago when your grandmother was born that loved ones were celebrating by sharing a meal, and that moment repeated at your mother’s birth, your birth and I imagine your children’s. How blessed we are to recognize the way this sharing brings our families together; in times of need as well as grace. Welcome to the Pacific Northwest.

  13. joeinvegas Avatar

    Sorry about grandma – but she was somebody you can remember.

  14. Jenni Avatar

    I feel awful for not visiting your blog sooner. I had no idea what you were going through and am so sorry for your loss. On the other hand, your grandma sounds like an inspiration to all, and I am glad you were able to gain so much from such a sad occasion.

  15. Chris Avatar

    Very sorry for the loss of your beloved grandmother from another voice from the Pacific Northwest. Moved here in the past year and every morning I have the fortune to be able to walk over to the water and gaze out on Orcas, listen to the water lapping the shore, and start my day in a calm, soothing manner. I can just feel my blood pressure level drop.

  16. Laurie Avatar

    So sorry to hear about your grandmother. My heart still aches about losing my grandmother in 2001. Hugs to you, I love your blog. You sound like such a great person.