Tuesday, October 20, 2009

We have a cord of wood waiting in the driveway. We will stack it and then we will burn it. Every year, at this moment, the wood strikes me as a metaphor, even though it just is what it is. "It's like a cord of wood in your driveway," I say to Michael, metaphorically, and he laughs. It's work and it's warmth and it's the season changing. It's wood in the driveway.

A childhood friend died suddenly--a person who was vital in every sense of the word: he was healthy, a community activist, the father of a 6-year-old and a 1-month-old, a husband, son, brother, friend, wildly beloved by everyone who knew him. I had the opportunity to grieve with old friends, to be inspired, to let gratitude and sadness and fear wash over me in alternating waves. I wish I'd understood better that knowing him was the opportunity of a lifetime. I wish that loss were not so firmly barnacled to love. I wish that time would pass more slowly. I wish, I wish, I wish. But I want for nothing.

I am at it again, this heartbreak of mine. And now there's this kitten in the mix. "He's getting so big!" I said last night, with tears in my eyes, and Michael kissed me.

There he is. With his brother Ben, who turns ten on Friday. What the?

Meanwhile, there are recipes up at family.com: The Soup of 1000 Vegetables, which offers some of my old-school self-flagellating melancholy along with a really good pot of soup. Hurray! And Homemade Fancy Crackers. Yes, it's crazy to make your own crackers, but you'll never go back.

Sending love to you, here from this cold and golden world.


  1. oh. catherine.

    such fine, sad, beautiful words for loss and the passing of time. my thoughts to you...

  2. I'm so sorry for your loss, Catherine.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss.

    Happy, happy birthday, Ben!

  4. I'm sorry about your friend.

    About Ben... ten? No. It's not possible. He was just a toddler. My son is coming close to his last single-digit birthday, and the mourning has already begun (on my part, of course). This time flying thing -- not so sure I like it.

    Happy birthday to your lovely, lovely boy.

  5. Catherine, I am so so sorry about your friend.

  6. Anonymous1:59 PM

    oh catherine, how is it that you are not my best friend? how is it that i feel that i "know" you so well, and yet we have never even met in person? i know so many of we loyal readers who love you say the same thing...

    you are such a part of my mind, my psyche, after reading you all these years... that i thought of you this weekend several times, my friend.... when my 31 yr old friend had a miscarriage on her first pregnancy, i thought of your article.... when i read your recipe, and you said you should have had another baby, i thought of your article on your loss... when i was this wknd spending hours finally accepting that there will be no more babies in this house, (i almost cannot write those words..), and i was in the garage, sorting through all the baby toys my boy and girl ever owned, i thought of you, and how fall makes you sentimental and nostalgic and sad and happy all at once..... Catherine, i don't mean to sound overly corny here, but you get me.... your thoughts seem to express "outloud" how i feel... this, and many other reasons, is why we all love you so much... it doesn't matter if we never meet you "in person"... you are "in person" in our hearts and our minds and our psyches...

    Ben. Ben. that big boy. was it just yesterday that you wrote about "why didn't anyone tell me that age 9 is so wonderful?!" type message... and now 10.

    i am writing wayyyy too much, as always.... my 6 1/2 yr old boy is in first grade..... my heart is not getting used to him being gone until 3 pm....if anything, i miss him more everyday.....

    i love love love the autumn here on East Coast, i grew up in CA, very different there, i love all the leaves changing colors... but also makes me feel sad and that it is a kind of ending... you get that...

    and your loss. my heart right now goes out to you. tied together they are, my friend. and my heart never gets used to to it.

    thank you for writing, thank you for expressing, thank you for sharing, thank you for being willing to say so many things that resonate with all of us....

    and your kitty... my 9 year old beauty dog that i adore lays next to me, sound asleep.... and my heart is terrified of his loss someday... my cousin is at the end of her dog's life, and i fear that loss for myself some day....

    i hear you. about ben. about your friend being gone. about your kitty. about firewood.

    it's me, 2kidslife, also known as Liz in other world....

    take good care. soak up every moment. let your heart feel what it feels. i love ya, hon. hope that is not too wierd reader-ish of me.

    happy happy birthday, ben! 10. hey, ben is ten! rhymes! silly me.

    hugs to you and all those beautiful beings you share your world with.


  7. What happened to your friend is my worst nightmare. I'm so sorry for his family and friends, for you.

    My son will be 9 next month. Yesterday my husband said, "Juli is growing so fast. He hardly plays with toys anymore. He just reads and writes all day." which is not completely accurate 'cause my bit still plays a lot. But he is growing.
    Happy birthday to your darling Ben. What a blessed woman you are Catherine, buy you already know it.
    Enjoy this autumn.

  8. the fragility and impermanence of this life makes it that much sweeter. my heart aches for you.

  9. Catherine, my condolences to you and your friend's family.

    Also, happy birthday, Ben!

    (That juxtaposition just seems to so well point out life's cycles.)

  10. Allison3:54 PM

    Catherine, I'm so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you.

    And Ben?

    Is ten???

    I remember when he turned three, fer chrissake, whilst you were gestating Birdy! You were all, I can't believe he's three, and I can't believe the little baby banging against my cervix will ever turn three!

    And now -- ten??? Oh my land.

    Happy birthday, Ben. All your Internet aunties are quietly weeping ...

  11. Oh the similarities.
    My hubby was chopping wood in the backyard this past weekend. Preparing for our first ever Wisconsin winter with a fireplace. Yeah!

    A classmate of mine died suddenly in her sleep two weeks ago, leaving behind a 9 yr old and a 5 yr old. Shocking and horrifying, and I think I'll never complain about my life again.

    My baby is two months already and my big baby will soon be arriving home here from school. Via bus! Such a big boy. My how time flies.

    Such a melancholy post. And I relate.

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  12. I remember Ben turning three as well, and you celebrating the reduction of choking hazards. :) But really, 10? Wow. I need a drink.

    So very sad to hear about your friend. There's never anything to say that really makes it much better, so I'll just say *hugs*. It sounds like you were very blessed to have known him, and he in turn would have been so fortunate to have a friend like you who so well appreciates grace and beauty in the world. I'll try hard to put some "it will be okay, someday" energy into the universe for his babies and everyone else who loved him. :(

    And oh darn the fall! I was just saying to my fiance that I wanted to take our kids out in the leaves for some photos, and choked up simply talking about how pretty they are. I do love and loathe this time of year...

  13. Catherine, I'm so sorry for your loss.

    Happy Birthday Ben!

    Also your kitten is adorable.

  14. Jennifer10:44 PM

    Thank you for this beautiful post. My Ben will be 10 this spring. I am already dreading it. If he will be 10, that means I will be 40. How is that possible?
    I am so sorry about your childhood friend. I cannot imagine what his family is going through.
    I will now go read about soup and enjoy more of your wonderful writing.

  15. No. He is not ten. No way. He absolutely must still be three, with his own scotch tape roll and being a new big brother. Can't be ten. Speaking of wishing for time to pass more slowly!

    You have such a wonderful way of writing what we so often feel, and mixing a smile in with the sadness, and finding a way to pull something valuable and good out of tragedy. I loved the "loss firmly barnacled to love" analogy, but sorry that you had to write it.

    enjoy the crackling wood...

  16. Oh I can't even imagine such a loss, I'm so sorry.
    Happy bday big guy!

  17. Oh Catherine, I am so sorry for your loss. My thoughts go out to you as well as to his family.

    I was never a huge fan of Fall, maybe growing up in WNY where we had all of about 2 weeks of it had something to do with it! Now on the coast in the South, Fall is beautiful weather! Leaves don't really change that early here (not till thanksgiving do you realize that the leaves are gone) but that's okay.

    I loved the comment about Ben's internet aunties - that made me laugh out loud. WOW - ten! We wish him a very Happy Birthday - any exciting pinantas this year?

    And as one person wrote about Ben's scotch tape habit when he was little - that made me laugh too. I think of your writing about that whenever I see my 6 1/2 yr old with his own tape. We have had to write his name on his and when he uses that up, he has to wait a long time before he gets another one! We even have to hide the 'house' tape so he doesn't find it. haha

    Just wanted you to know that your writing touches so many people and we appreciate it. Thank you.

  18. Catherine,
    Just wanted to let you know that I'm not really *into* cooking and recipes and everything, but I still do so love to read your writing. You're so funny and lovely, even when you're writing about food.


  19. I second all the things people have written about your terrible loss, as well as about the impossibility of Ben turning 10 (10? seriously?).

    But, I need to know, with such a little bit your writing making me both gasp and sigh, when are we getting another book from you?


  20. I love how your writing taps into my feelings and then I'm right there with you, sharing something very profound. Thank YOU for sharing, Catherine.

  21. Anonymous11:52 AM

    I'm so sorry. I hope that it might be a comfort to know that so many of us out here are thinking of you. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I know we all share your sadness and send you our love. Let little Craney curl up in your lap and just purr. So warm and comforting. --CathyK

  22. Happy Birthday Ben!!! My Kelsey will be 10 on monday. aahh where does the time go, last I looked she was still in diapers......

  23. Anonymous1:19 PM

    Your final comment about the world being cold AND golden brought to my mind the famous Robert Frost poem:

    Nature's first green is gold
    Her hardest hue to hold
    Her early leaf's a flower;
    But only so an hour.
    Then leaf subsides to leaf.
    So Eden sank to grief,
    So dawn goes down to day.
    Nothing gold can stay.

    It's "gold" out here in the hilltowns and I have had a few recent experiences about the beautiful but achingly transitory nature of everything...including a son who'll be ten soon as well.
    Oh the joy and oh the ache...

  24. Catherine, I'm so sorry about your friend.
    You've caught the necessary connection of love and loss perfectly--and of course Ben turning ten and the kitten getting bigger are part of this same picture, the loss of small-childhood and kittenhood. I'm appreciating your piece especially today, as we have had some unexpected and unfair deaths in our circle as well, and it is hard to absorb them. I am not nearly reconciled to any of these losses.

  25. Let's all just hug one another. Share an extra kindness to a stranger. Take an extra look at our children as they lay in their beds tonight. Take a breath and remember to speak with gentleness, and forgive ourselves when we can't hold to our own standards of perfection.

    Much love to you, Catherine.

  26. I'm so sorry for your loss, Catherine, and for everyone who knew him.

  27. Happy Birthday Ben! A whole world of people love you. :)

  28. I am so sorry for your loss, Catherine.

  29. Anonymous2:01 PM

    i luv luv luv that we all know about ben's scotch tape habit...

    and the "boob" pinatas....

    i can name a zillion more..

    hugs to you, from 2kidslife, Liz.

    it is "snowing" autumn leaves here in new jersey.

    i hope your heart is doing okay, and is loving your kitty and big boy and happy girl and handsome husband, even with all the pain and change...


  30. Happy belated birthday to Ben... and wishing you peace in your loss...

  31. Love and loss are a wonderful, terrible two-sided coin. I want to think that our human abilities to love and remember so fiercely and painfully are clues that our sole mortal lives are not all there is for us in the universe.

    Rather like Nathaniel Hawthorne noted:

    "Our creator would never have made such lovely days, and given us the deep hearts to enjoy them, above all thought, unless we were meant to be immortal."

    Anyway, I'm glad to have found your blog. I enjoyed your writing very much in Wondertime (which I loved and remember fiercely and painfully!), and just last week read your essay on lovely Ben in It's a Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons. Waiting for Birdy is on my Xmas wishlist.

  32. Mama of 311:48 PM

    So sorry for your loss...

    And Ben is 10? I just can't believe it! I've been reading your posts since the beginning over at BabyCenter. It's so hard to believe how big your babies have gotten. They grow so fast it seems. When I was younger and before I had kids, I could never understand why my mom cried whenever she heard the song "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof. I just listened to it last night and cried like a fool thinking someday my babes will be grown and off on their own.

    Here's to the sunrise of Ben's double digit life and to the sunset of your amazing friend's.

  33. So sorry for your loss and the family and friends this friend leaves behind.

    Your words are comforting though. I hope you find some comfort too.

  34. Oh dear Catherine- our collective heart goes out to embrace you and yours in this sad, tear-stained time-

    Happy Birthday to your dear, growing-too-too-fast, sweet wisp of a boy. Tell him to knock it off.:)

  35. I'm sorry for your loss. It's a weird time - watching our babies grow, getting pets, seeing people die... oh my God... we're LIVING LIFE! Odd....

  36. beautiful words for loss and the passing of time. my thoughts to you. Work from home India