Those of you who know me, or follow this blog, know that one of my best friends, Kelly, died last August. Today, she would’ve been twenty-three, and while she’s always on my mind, on her birthday, she is with me stronger than ever. Without sharing too much personal information, I’ll just say Kelly died suddenly, and we think it was probably her heart. One of the biggest, most generous, happiest hearts I’ve ever met, by the way.
When someone dies, everyone tells you time will ease your pain. I have to say I didn’t really believe these sweet people who told me this. I mean, I thought, “Maybe for you, but nothing’s going to ease this.” I’m glad to say that I was wrong, and they were right. I know now we couldn’t get through the days and years with the kind of pain I felt then. And even though the day-to-day got better, if you’d told me that there would be blessings coming out of losing my best friend, I would’ve told you that you were crazy.
Turns out, I was wrong again. They just took a while to show themselves. Today, to help celebrate the birthday of a lovely young woman and fabulous friend, I’m going to share with you one of the blessings.
Kelly was not just a great friend, and an early reader and huge advocate for me and my writing, but she was also my cooking student. You can read more about that here. As one might imagine, after she died, I couldn’t even face cooking. I wasn’t hungry anyway, and the thought of going out there and cooking without her was just unimaginable. But after a few months, I realized two things…I had lost a lot of weight (and I’m naturally thin so it wasn’t looking very good), and I was hungry. I asked my husband if he was hungry too, and he said, “I”ve been hungry for three months.”
You might wonder why he didn’t simply cook, and to be fair, I think he probably did. I don’t really remember because I was operating in a haze of grief. But his idea of a meal was either a bunch of steamed vegetables with olive oil and parmesan served with rice, or “breakfast” (eggs, potatoes, toast). He kept himself alive before he met me, but not in the way either of us are now acustomed to. He’s definitely not some sort of ninteen-fifties a-woman’s-place-is-in-the-kitchen husband, but cooking has always been my domain. For two reasons – I am really good at it, and I like to do it.
Once I admitted to him I just couldn’t face cooking without being overcome by waves of grief for Kelly, he offered to go into the kitchen with me. We started slowly. He made the salad and chopped the onions or mushrooms, and I made simple meals. Afterward, he did a “boy clean,” which means he sort of tidied up, and then I came in and finished the job to “girl clean” standards. We eased our way into a routine. We began to plan meals – okay, I planned them, but he got the groceries and became more and more involved in the actual cooking.
Over the last six months, he has become quite proficient in the kitchen (and he can even do a girl-clean, although he keeps hoping I’ll forget about the times he did that – lower expectations are always good, right?). A few weeks ago, I was sick in bed. We were supposed to go to a pot-luck, and the next day, people were coming over for Sunday Soup. I gave Victor the recipe for the sesame noodle salad, and he made it entirely by himself from start to finish. And it was delicious. The next day, he made Roasted Red Pepper and Cauliflower soup on his own too.
From my place, propped up in the bed, I could hear the pans banging around, and things sizzling on the stove. And I realized that while nothing will ever entirely console me when it comes to losing Kelly, there are blessings, and sometimes they take a while to show themselves. Having Victor cook with me every night, and sometimes cooking on his own when I’m busy or tired or sick or just don’t feel like it, is something that may not have ever happened if she hadn’t moved on.
If I’ve learned one thing from this, it’s that acknowledging your blessings will ease your pain. Also, cooking with Victor is a joy that I treasure every time we do it. So, Kelly, on your birthday, wherever you are (and I’m sure you’re reading my blog because you always did), I miss you, but thank you for this gift, too.
Joelle (and Victor)
Readers…if you want to share a blessing that came out of a tragedy, I’d love to hear it…either via email or in the comments, whichever way you feel most comfortable.