I unwrapped each plate, each bowl, serving dish, tea cup, piece of glasswear. I set each piece down, delicately and softly, across the table that now belonged to me, to my husband, to my family, to us. The process took less time than I imagined, but arrived years before I felt ready.
Yesterday, my husband and I trekked home to Pennsylvania, pulling his grandpa’s trailer behind the truck. We wheeled onto The Farm as if the task of the trip was the most normal thing. “Oh hey! We’re just here to pick up my Grandma and Grandpa’s dining room suit, great-grandma Swearingen’s china set, and assorted things. You know, as you do!”
I felt gutted the whole way there, the feeling exacerbated by walking into the house that can only be described as my second home growing up. Boxes, bags, assorted things in piles, all being worked on endlessly by my aunt, my mother; a task no one knows how to prepare for, knows not how to complete. At one point, our dog ran from room to room, looking for her dog who no longer lives in the house. No one knows what to do with this sudden loss, this hole in our family. Not even the dog.
My brother, father, uncle, and husband went about the sweaty work of loading the table, the china closet, the server, the chairs as the 92-degrees-in-the-shade heat beat down on them at the back of her house. I walked from room to room with my mom. “Do you want that?” “No.” “Do you want that?” “No.” “Do you need that?” “No.” “Take some sheets. Take some towels. Take something.” And I did, because even though the picking up and fingering through and touching of these beautiful things that she curated over all the years feels something akin to stealing, the point is that if we don’t take these things in the here and now, they will be gone to us forever. These small bits of who she was, who they both were to us as a family.
I keep thinking that, a month later, the tears should stop and the realization that she’s gone, that she’s never going to call me in the morning and ask, “What are you up to today, Wren,” should be sinking in. But I’ve tried to call twice. And when mom called me from her house the other day, my heart leaped out of my chest to see “Swearingen Grandparents” on my caller ID.
Silence hung heavy during the two hour drive home.
I spent time after dinner arranging the pieces, my husband at my side, graciously refraining from commenting on my sniffles, the tears on my wet cheeks. We moved things around together, searching for balance and beauty in the midst of this unbalanced and ugly place of grief we’ve been wading through since losing her. Carefully we moved and moved again and moved one last time until, stepping back, we nodded. Pleased, we stood on either side of the table looking at what was once hers—theirs—now ours.
This morning, after sleeping off the emotional exhaustion of yesterday, I ran, hydrated, and made myself two dippy eggs. I learned to love, to make dippy eggs in my grandparents’ tiny kitchen, ate them with toasted rye bread at the very table now sitting in my dining room. I moved around my own kitchen, pushing the bread down in the toaster, fishing the butter out of the fridge, putting extra pepper on my eggs to make up for the fact that I can’t eat salt. I placed my food on a plate, sat down at my new seat at my new-to-me-table that holds so many memories of holidays, family meals, mac and cheese and pork chops, snacks, just the three of us, and then, just the two of us, and now today, just me.
I ate in silence, the dog curling under the table that she keeps sniffing, likely wondering, “Why is this table here now? Why does it smell like Robbie and Grandma’s house and all of the things that belong over there.” I sat and stared at the china hutch as that’s the direction my chair now faces, eating my egg and missing my grandparents so much it felt as if my chest might cave in on itself, on me, on the weight of everything I’ve felt in the last month.
I finished my eggs, my—sadly, not rye—toast. And the world continued turning.
Tomorrow my husband will come home from work. We will eat breakfast together at the table. Tomorrow evening, the boys will come home from their grandma’s house—a house they’re off making memories at as I did all those years. For years and years to come, we will gather around this table, together. They will tell me they don’t like things at this table. They will declare certain dishes their favorite. I will make them meals from the cookbook my grandma hand-wrote for me for my wedding shower. Family will gather on holidays and we’ll pass mashed potatoes and gravy and love to one another.
But today, it was just me. Just me at a table with my memories and my heart on my sleeve and my soul searching for meaning and the hurt too close to the surface. Today it was just me, some dippy eggs, and a thankful heart that I can carry my grandma’s legacy of caring for her family with food and meals and togetherness on in my own home.
I hope I will make her proud.