Delayed Grief

When I heard of my sister in law’s passing away three weeks back, I went to see my goddaughter only a few days later. There was a short school holiday, and she said she’d like me to come out, so it was a no-brainer. I packed up my kids and we hit the Autobahn, stopping at the big yucky yellow fast food joint, taking regular coffee breaks, and trying to enjoy the roadtripping. In F, we spent a few intense days trying to sort through things, talking about my sister in law, and also quite a bit about my late brother, her husband.

It was grim work, as it always is, to try and pack up a life in boxes, suitcases and plastic bags. We could only handle so much of it at a time, but we did make progress, and when the kids and I went back home after four days, we went feeling tired and drained, but also with a deep sense of belonging. The pull of family, which I hadn’t felt in so many years, given the somewhat dysfunctional state of this family, came as a surprise, but it was good, too.

What threw me for a loop more than anything else was the fact that my estranged brother who had never come to see us here in Berlin, who knew my son only because I had come to visit, and who had never even met my daughter, had kept a stash of photographs of me as a kid. Most of them are a bit like this one:

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They show a little girl who is completely, absolutely adoring her much older brother, and a handsome young man who seems happy enough to indulge the little critter – both wearing goofy, toothy, identical grins. I was looking at these pictures with a huge cartoon question mark forming above my head. I was like, dude, who are you? How do you have these pictures, and what the f… ever happened to destroy that bubble of mutual love that obviously existed, once upon a time? I had grown up thinking he didn’t really care about me, and there I was, holding evidence to the contrary in my hands. The longer I looked, the stronger my sense of loss became, and the sadder I got.

Last weekend, I hid out at our country cottage, sitting, processing, and crying a great deal, all the while trying to make sense of why this was. My smart friend M., the therapist, explained to me about delayed grief, and that actually did shed some light. It occurs when a person is unable to deal with grief as it happens. The pain gets stashed away somewhere, allowing the person to go on functioning without looking at the sadness and the loss. But eventually there comes a time when it’s inevitable to do just that – and the emotions may feel just as raw, and acute as if the loss had only just happened. They were only delayed. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

When my brother died, I was on a deadline for a book, we had a young man staying with us who was interning with a member of parliament, our washing machine chose that week to collapse, and I was having migraines like crazy … I may have postponed my feelings about what had happened without noticing.

This time around, we have no house guest, and the book I’m currently translating has a comfortable deadline in July. But I did drown my iPhone in the toilet, the car had a fit after we came back from our trip to the South, and I cut my finger when making school snacks in the morning, deep.

I keep getting flashbacks of grief, and I let the tears fall, for I understand that they need to. I’m OK with feeling sad now, and I allow myself to. Grief is a bit like dust. It’s there, and you may be too busy to deal with it, and sweep it into a corner, or let it sit where it will dull everything. But eventually, you need to clean up that dust so your life can sparkle again, right?

The kids and I are about to take another road trip to F, where my sister in law will be laid to rest next to her husband – remember this beautiful spot?

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It will be good to find closure. It always is.

It will also be good to see my girl J, who has been so brave all this time, and be with her this last step, and it will be awesome to stay at my friend A’s beautiful, multicolored, insanely creative place again:

Why yes, that’s the Funky Blanket in its new home right there. And look, they’ve got bunnies, and they’re friendly, too.

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Aaaaand check out the Furniture Socks – aren’t they fabulous, and bizarre?

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Yup, staying with A is pure color therapy, and as a better writer than I once put it it’s like taking a bath in a warm tub of friendship.

I’m so grateful to have such wonderful friends. You guys are my safe place.

Thank you so much for being you, I love and cherish all of you.

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Bon Voyage, Sister in Law

I used to love springtime. Many of my loved ones celebrate their birthdays this beautiful time of year, everything that blossoms is going crazy, and finally, there’s strawberries in abundance again. Yeah, spring is usually a time to look forward to. Sadly, it’s also a time for remembering absent friends. I always think of my dad on his birthday, the 7th of May, who would have been 103 this year. A day later, I think of my father in law who passed away 3 years ago. And now, my late brother’s wife chose to follow her husband yesterday night, also on the 8th of May… I could easily be drinking to absent friends for 3 days straight.

Dorothee was one of the most formidable women I ever met. She was a political theorist and historian, a brilliant mind, and a very opinionated and headstrong person. She was the Yin to my brother’s Yang, and may well have saved his life when they met, because he was lonely and depressed and a barely functioning alcoholic. She got him to open up and talk, she made him laugh and all of a sudden, he was sweet and happy. I’ve rarely seen two people more devoted to each other. As is often the case with very symbiotic couples, she didn’t last long without him. She was diagnosed with Leukemia only a matter of weeks after he died. She took one round of chemo simply because she wanted to recover well enough to be able to put her affairs in order and not leave a mess for her only daughter – admirable, right? When we first spoke after she went into treatment, the worry about her baby girl (who’s almost 30;-)) was weighing heavily on her mind, and she asked me to promise to look after her. In my opinion J is not even remotely as fragile as her mom thought. In fact, she’s pretty badass and not only because of her awesome tats. She was by her mom’s side all the way, and she kept her games producing circus going anyway… I doubt she’ll be needing me all that much. But of course I’ll always be there for her.

When I last spoke to my sister in law, she said she was looking forward to reconnecting with the love of her life. Here she is (with a little piece of her sweet daughter whom I cut out for privacy reasons). Doesn’t she look Zen?

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It was an honor having known her. May she be well on the other side.

 

What Was I Up To Recently?

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Hi yarn & stitches fans, today I feel like writing a really nerdy all arts & crafts centered post. Check out the knit dress I made for my daughter: a little in-between project that happened while I was binge-watching The Night Manager. If you found Tom Hiddleston intriguing as Avengers nemesis Loki at all, you’re definitely in for a treat – he plays the lead in this BBC mini series, and he’s incredible. Also really easy on the eyes! Hugh Laurie (another favorite Englishman) plays his adversary, the biggest baddest arms dealer you can possibly imagine, with neither scruples nor a soul. Very entertaining stuff, and great for a few hours of rows and rows of knit, knit and then knit some more. After so many years in this business, I don’t really have to look anymore when it’s a simple piece like that. Experience has its perks.

I’m not usually one to buy cheap yarn (I’m not above it, or stuck up or anything, but I hate shopping, and you only find special offers like this if you go looking, right?). So this was an impulse purchase in February while doing the weekly grocery run, in a place I don’t usually shop at. February was a bad month in terms of light, vitamin D, color … all that good stuff was severely lacking, and there was this beautifully spring-colored yarn – doesn’t it remind you of strawberries, spring flowers and ice-cream? Well, it appealed to me, because I was so starved for color, and so I snatched it up, and at a bargain price too.

Initially, I was going to make a sweater,

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but then, when I was about halfway through the front piece, my daughter looked over my shoulder, and, the way she will when she sees something she’d really like for herself, asked wistfully: Are you making me a dress…? And that was actually a great idea, because there wasn’t enough yarn for sleeves anyway, and of course you can’t get individual balls of special offer yarn anywhere, not if it’s from a groceries discounter anyway. I browsed for necklines and finally decided on a simple shoulder yoke knit in the round, with the sides becoming short sleeves, the way you’re seeing it on the first pic. I remembered that I was a veteran hat knitter, and just did the thing I do when knitting the top of a hat (knit 2tog every 7 stitches, every 6 stitches in the next but next round, every 5 the next but next … you get the drift. Alternating a round of decreasing and one of just knitting). Finally, as I had half a ball of leftover yarn when casting off, I added a row or two of SC and a pretty TC shell edging because I couldn’t help myself. This you can’t see on the pic I took Sunday morning, as it was added on a whim in the car going back to town after the first proper sunny spring weekend in the country, check out the wildlife. If you can’t see it right away, look for a baby lizard basking right there in the sunshine.

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Before the Motley Dress, I finished the baby blanket I started over Easter – didn’t get around to taking it to the post office before, but I’m proud to say that I’ve just done exactly that today. My friend J from Frankfurt and his lovely wife had a baby girl, and I hope they’re enjoying those first magic weeks together – Little M is their first, and in my memory at least there is no time quite like that wondrous, extraordinary, amazingly life-altering experience of getting acquainted with your new offspring. Sigh. Anyway, here’s the blanket:

I enjoyed handling that soft merino yarn, and found the rhythm of color and waves as calming as ever. As you can see, I added a little edging of this and of that (SC in off-white, clusters of 3 DC in baby blue – no gender-normative color stereotypes in this blanket:-)!, a sort of a Larksfoot-type DC thing with a deep stitch in yellow and off-white, and an absolutely adorable row of light green picots to finish it off). I really hope they’re going to like it even half as much as I did. J is a big name portrait photographer, an artist really, and his wife M is a graphic designer, so who knows what they’re going to make of my gift…? My kitty found it comfortable, that’s for sure. And yes, this was taken before washing it, Jeez!

Other than that, I’ve started work on a new book, and received my free copies of the March effort – and what an effort it was! Brainy stuff, what with math and statistics and soccer and betting … But I’m really pleased with it, and proud to have been a part of the project.

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Wishing Dr. Sumpter and his book great success, especially with the European Championships coming up, which was obviously why it was such a rush in the first place. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, by all means go find it, it should be all over the stores now.

And since we all like to eat, how about a little springtime risotto recipe? Nothing special, but as seasonal and wholesome as they come:

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Green Asparagus Risotto

For 4 helpings, you will need:

2 bundles of fresh green asparagus, ends chopped off and thrown in the broth for more flavor, the rest cut in bite-size pieces

2 shallots, peeled & finely chopped

500 g Arborio rice

1 l very good veg broth (I use Cenovis clear vegetable broth)

1 glass of white wine or Prosecco

Best possible quality olive oil

20-30 g butter

Salt, Pepper

1/2 bunch fresh basil, cut into fine strips

Zest of 1/2 lemon

2 handfuls grated Parmesan cheese

You know the risotto drill, don’t you? Do not leave its side, keep stirring, and keep it nice and moist. If you’re new to this iconic Italian dish, please know you’ll definitely mess it up if you think of it as only a pot of rice, because it is so much more, and also kind of capricious.

Make your broth in advance, chop your shallots and basil and open the wine. Grate cheese.

Then start with heating a generous few spoonfuls of olive oil in a large pan or pot. Add rice and chopped shallots, turn down heat and begin stirring. Do not let the onions brown, it’ll ruin your whole effort. If rice and shallots start looking transparent, pour the white wine. Keep stirring until the liquid is as good as soaked up. Then, start adding broth ladle by individual ladle. Stir until liquid is gone, then add more. After approx. 30 minutes, the rice should be al dente. If you’re like me and like your risotto a bit mushier, keep going until it’s soft. Turn off heat, add grated cheese, butter and basil leaves. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes.

Now, you heat another dash of olive oil in a Teflon-coated pan. Add asparagus and lemon zest. Salt sparingly, add a pinch of sugar if you like, cover the pan and stew until tender. Check your seasoning. Add freshly grated black pepper.

Serve each plate with a generous topping of asparagus, and enjoy while it’s in season:-).

And, apropos of nothing, I found this awesome William Carlos Williams quote just the other day – seems too good not to share. It’s right there on my desk pad, inspiring me every day:
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