friday feast: breaking bread, breaking hearts

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

simmer till done/flickr

by Kim Addonizio

I know my friend is going,
though she still sits there
across from me in the restaurant,
and leans over the table to dip
her bread in the oil on my plate; I know
how thick her hair used to be,
and what it takes for her to discard
her man’s cap partway through our meal,
to look straight at the young waiter
and smile when he asks
how we are liking it. She eats
as though starving — chicken, dolmata,
the buttery flakes of filo —
and what’s killing her
eats, too. I watch her lift
a glistening black olive and peel
the meat from the pit, watch
her fine long fingers, and her face,
puffy from medication. She lowers
her eyes to the food, pretending
not to know what I know. She’s going.
And we go on eating.

~ from What is This Thing Called Love (W.W. Norton & Co., 2005).

Filo Pastry with Goat Cheese and Spinach by Rooey202/flickr.

I came across this poem several years ago, just about the same time Len’s cousin Liz was diagnosed with colon cancer. I thought of this poem every time we met for dinner, unable to believe that the vibrant, adventurous, optimistic person sitting across from me had just survived another surgery, finished yet another course of chemo.

Liz took life by the horns; it was always her way. Her conversations overflowed with adventures large and little — the grand trip to London where we first met, compiling an heirloom recipe collection with her daughter, glorious long-ago summers spent with her cousins in New England, riding in a friend’s police car on his late night shift just to see what it was like.

There was never any complaining, or talk of feeling cheated. She was too busy making plans to visit one friend in the Midwest, another in New York. It must be her generation, I thought, to never condone whining, preferring to champion the brave front.

A few days ago, Len and I sat across the table from Liz for the very last time. We hadn’t seen her for a few months, as she was staying with her daughter out west, and only this week had been admitted to hospice care. She came back just for a few days to see some of her many friends in the city where she lived most of her life. We were apprehensive, not knowing what to expect, how to say goodbye.

But we needn’t have worried. Though markedly thin and jaundiced, noticeably weakened, Liz made sure our last memory of her would be one of affirmation — a life lived fully with no regrets. While sipping tea and nibbling on a chocolate chip cookie, she spoke of her love for aviation — for her 10th birthday she got to fly in an airplane for the first time; she didn’t mind puddle-jumpers one bit; of course who could forget the hot air balloon or helicopter rides? And when she spoke of the beautiful peace and calm at hearing the wind whistling through the pines from her hospice window, I thought, “she’s going, but she keeps on so we can go on.”

Of all the subtexts that play in our minds when it comes to grief, loss, coping, death — perhaps the most uplifting comes from, “pretending not to know what I know.” It’s probably the greatest gift Liz could have given us that day, knowing what only she knew about her remaining time in this world. Beneath our self-imposed burden of sorrow, we were startled to live in the only moment afforded us, and everything shifted. She will ever soar.

Today’s Roundup is being hosted by JoAnn at Teaching Authors.



“Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality.” ~ Emily Dickinson

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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