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Food Can Fix That

Nancy 1965

I woke on a Monday in April, 1965 on a strange new planet. No one had come to wake me for school, and I’d had a restless night, waking twice, each time going into my parents’ room, and finding the bed made, and no one there. Both times I called downstairs for them, the first time my neighbor Mona was there, and she told me to go back to sleep, my parents had gone out. The second time Mona’s mother was there, and she repeated the same message.

Monday morning I went back to my parents’ room and found my father and grandmother there. Where was my mom? I think it was my grandmother who took my hand and said, “Mommy has gone to heaven.” OK, but when will she be back? I had just turned seven, I was in first grade. My mom hadn’t been sick, she was 34, she had gone to heaven, and wouldn’t be coming back. None of this made any sense at all.

No one hugged me, or held me. No one asked me how I felt, or what I wanted. I don’t know if I could have told them if they had, but it would have been nice if someone had asked.

When you are Jewish, and someone dies, things move really fast. They kept me home from school, and the house became a whirlwind of frenzied activity.  They had to get a funeral together so my mother could be buried within two days of her death. Because my mother was so young, and hadn’t been ill no one was prepared in any way for this.

The house filled with people and food; so much food. There was food everywhere, and no one seemed to know what to do with me besides feed me. I wandered through the house, lost and confused, and probably not even hungry, but I ate. The food was so good, it was familiar, and it was everywhere.  I remember the food almost as clearly as I recall the funeral service, held in our living room, with me sitting next to the Rabbi, while I played with the new Slinky someone had given me.

We sat Shiva for a week. There were coat racks brought in from somewhere, real coatracks like you see at churches and synagogues, in our front hall. There were so many people, but the two people I really needed were gone; my mother, now in heaven, and my father, physically there, but like a ghost. I never saw him again. Or I never saw the daddy my father had been before we lost my mother. This new planet was populated with strangers, including the man who looked like my father, but now could barely look at me.

The kitchen was the only place that felt normal. Like many families on Long Island in 1965, we had a maid who lived with us, Katie. As I wandered the house I would be drawn to the comfort of the kitchen, of Katie, of the platters of Nathan’s cold cuts and rugelach.  I would sit quietly at the table and eat.  It felt good; it was the only thing that felt good. It was how I learned to comfort myself when no one was there to comfort me. I learned this quickly and well. It takes some people years to find out how food can numb you to a bearable level of pain. On this new planet I learned in a week.

 

 

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  • November 4, 2014 - 9:40 am

    alisa/icescreammama - so sad for little you.ReplyCancel

    • November 4, 2014 - 9:45 am

      nrlowell@comcast.net - Alisa, thanks. I remember the first time I was with a friend and her 7 year old, and I was struck at how little they are.ReplyCancel

  • November 4, 2014 - 9:59 am

    Michelle - How heartbreaking. I am mourning for the child that was you. I love this story, it’s beautifully written.ReplyCancel

    • November 4, 2014 - 11:29 am

      nrlowell@comcast.net - Michelle, thank you for the kind words. I am a bit shocked at what posting this story is doing to me today. I keep reminding myself to breathe!ReplyCancel

  • November 4, 2014 - 1:18 pm

    Jacqueline Bryant Campbell - The voice of little-girl you comes through very clearly. It’s beautifully written.ReplyCancel

    • November 4, 2014 - 1:21 pm

      nrlowell@comcast.net - Thank you Jacqueline.ReplyCancel

  • November 4, 2014 - 1:58 pm

    Robbie - I am so sorry. This is very vivid and haunting.ReplyCancel

  • November 4, 2014 - 8:23 pm

    Vanessa D. - I’m sorry for your loss at such a young age. I can only imagine how confusing the period of mourning must have been.ReplyCancel

    • November 4, 2014 - 8:26 pm

      nrlowell@comcast.net - Vanessa, thank you. It actually lasted about 20 years…ReplyCancel

  • November 5, 2014 - 11:13 pm

    Asha - You’ve told your story so beautifully, so poignantly. My heart goes out to that little 7 year old you.ReplyCancel

  • November 6, 2014 - 1:40 am

    soapie - sorry to read of your loss; it’s devastating to lose a parent at any age, but i imagine it was even more difficult as a child, since your mother had no illness and there was no preparation for it. so tragic.

    beautiful post.ReplyCancel

  • November 6, 2014 - 4:12 am

    Asha Rajan - You’ve told your story so beautifully, so poignantly. My heart goes out to that little 7 year old you.ReplyCancel

  • November 6, 2014 - 9:32 am

    Chasing Joy - Thank you for sharing. Very sorry you lost your mom so young.ReplyCancel

  • November 6, 2014 - 2:28 pm

    Jan Wilberg - You brought back memories of my mother suddenly being gone, take to the hospital for one thing or another. The bed still being made in the middle of the night or too early in the morning was the big ominous clue. But my mother came back each time. You describe the 7 year old’s view so absolutely perfectly. The point of Yeah Write, I think, is to find pieces like this.ReplyCancel

    • November 6, 2014 - 12:41 pm

      nrlowell@comcast.net - Jan, thanks. I don’t think there is much that is scarier to a young kid that their mom being gone, for 5 minutes, or forever! To one degree or another, we all know that feeling.ReplyCancel

  • November 6, 2014 - 2:52 pm

    Rowan - I love the way you structured your story to convey the aching numbness and disorientation you were feeling. It’s sorrowful without ever falling over the edge into maudlin.ReplyCancel

  • November 6, 2014 - 4:29 pm

    Megan Ferrell - I like how you compared the other side of your mother’s death with a strange planet. One jarring, monumental event like that *does transform everything around you until it all looks strange and foreign. This is my life?

    You really evoked that feeling here. Well done.ReplyCancel

    • November 6, 2014 - 12:43 pm

      nrlowell@comcast.net - Megan,
      Thanks. That seven year old is still quite present in me when I start poking at those memories.ReplyCancel

  • November 7, 2014 - 7:00 pm

    Jen - This is so heart shattering! 🙁 You did a wonderful job telling your story, and having us feel your pain. I’m so sorry.ReplyCancel

  • November 7, 2014 - 10:38 pm

    Colleen - Nancy, thank you for sharing your story! I also lost my mom, suddenly at age 13 (She was only 30) and similarly lost my dad as well in the process. So I really related to your story and my heart is with you. Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • November 8, 2014 - 6:58 am

      nrlowell@comcast.net - Colleen, I’m so sorry you went through that. No doubt, like me it has shaped who you are today, in a million ways. My heart is with you as well.ReplyCancel

  • February 1, 2017 - 7:49 pm

    The Smack » Chefs Last Diet - […] say how that smack impacted my relationship with my mother, or if we ever acknowledged it. She died the following April, and it was Katie who comforted and took care of me while my father went to […]ReplyCancel

  • February 12, 2017 - 1:32 pm

    Where is My Resilience? » Chefs Last Diet - […] Hope Edelman’s Motherless Daughters, and finally stopped questioning why I couldn’t get over my mother’s death thirty years earlier. I finally understood there are experiences that are so profound and so […]ReplyCancel

  • June 1, 2017 - 11:53 am

    No Fathers’ Day » Chefs Last Diet - […] and infuriating, funny and distant, and we never managed to repair our relationship (fractured when my mother died) enough to have a single meaningful or emotionally connected […]ReplyCancel

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