On Grief and Making Toast

Sometimes I think that I am drawn to books of sorrow. Rather, maybe, I am more attracted to how people survive and work out their grief. 

Perhaps it was too soon for the author to write of his daughter Amy's untimely death from heart failure at age 38.  Making Toast: a Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt is so filled with raw sorrow, a touch of bitterness and tender stories of helping to raise three young grandchildren. The children call him, Boppo, and his wife, Ginny becomes Mimi as their lives are forever changed.

Roger Rosenblatt may be familiar from his columns in The Washington Post or Time Magazine. He is also a Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University and the author of the hilarious novel, Lapham Rising

Facing this terrible loss is torture, but caring for the children becomes a joy. 

Always the teacher, Boppo gives the children a new word each morning to mull and savor. These 'Word of the Morning' stories sprinkled throughout the book and the quiet way that the Rosenblatts instill a love of reading are some of my favorite parts of this memoir. Bubbies, the youngest child, is just under two. One evening just before bedtime, Bubbies points to one of the books in the den and says, "book." It is a copy of The Letters of James Joyce, but Boppo takes the book down and instead reads a story of Bubbies' adventure on the playground. 

    "I try to put back the book, but he detects an implicit announcement of his bedtime, and he protests. "Joyce!" he says. Eventually, he resigns himself to the end of his day. He puts the book back himself, and quietly says, "Joyce."

Ginny puts her feelings into the startling poem "Arch of Shade" as she grapples with leading her daughter's life by caring for the children. 

    Arch of Shade

    Rachmaninoff and Mozart
    Sift through the haze
    On River Road.
    Two hatted women wait 
    In the heat for the Ride-on-Bus.
    The Wii is the summer wish
    Come true.
    Your babies' crib is disassembled
    And taken away 
    Accepted
    With gratitude
    To be the bed for a new life.

    I am turning 
    To the camp carpool line
    Only thinking of you.
    The arch of shade hovers
    The hot July sun rays
    Dapple the leaf arch
    To highlight the darkness. 

    I am here.

Roger astutely comments on his wife and her poetry; "Her graciousness distracts people from noticing that she is alert to life's dark places. She prefers it that way. Her poems hit their mark, but gently. They crack the egg without breaking it."  

Making Toast will both break your heart and show you what is possible in dealing with grief.