Under Par

Posted April 19, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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I had thought to show you that in spite of it all I’m still capable of creating beauty, but the truth is that all I can think is how much Shel, ever my photography mentor, would have liked this photo that I took after venturing to the grocery store yesterday. I could be thinking “wow, bag full of beauty” or “awesome, best flower shot ever” or something more upbeat, but today I’ve been on such a sad trip in the way-back machine that Shel is the only thing on my mind.

I’ve been gathering photos to use for a little slideshow at his memorial, and a few are mind-boggling. Was his hair ever that red? When was the last time we looked as young and happy as we do in our wedding photos, given that we were both over 40 when we married? Was Shel ever that big, sturdy, smiling guy? Try as I might, I can’t conjure up a real memory of those times, even with the photographic evidence in front of me. My mind’s eye is filled with images of him at the end, frail, drawn, and suffering.

I spend as much time as possible looking at flowers, since my house and garden are full of them, and looking at the water and the sky. Before Shel died I used to tell myself “Everything will still be here afterwards, the house, the garden, the water, the sky, the kitties, only one thing will be missing: the most important thing.” And indeed I forecast it correctly, absent Shel it’s all still here, but today I feel his absence more than the presence of the whole rest of the world.

DSC_8264There was a veritable light show of rainbows so intense that I could hear the neighbors exclaiming from several doors down, but the one voice I wanted to hear (probably saying “straighten that camera out!”) is the one I’ll never hear again.

Yesterday I had a calm and peaceful day, today I’m tormented. I guess that 50-50 is about par for this course.

From The Fog

Posted April 17, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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DSC_8244Yesterday I talked with a friend about something other than death, and the day before that, I laughed. It’s eleven days now since Shel died, and today I awoke with the sensation of having emerged from a numbing fog, feeling surprisingly like myself. I tended my little altar with his pictures and the beautiful flowers that people keep sending me and the candle that’s been lit since he died, but today I haven’t cried. Is this wrong?

I hadn’t cooked anything since that day, either, subsisting on odds and ends of leftovers, nuts, cheese, salami, just opening the fridge and finding something to put in my mouth without thought. Nothing had much taste, anyway. But today I read about scrambling eggs with the steam wand of an espresso machine, and although my first thought was that Shel would kill me for messing up his steam wand with eggy goop, it sounded good. I tried it, and found it surprisingly delicious. Then I rubbed a pork belly with some spices and stuck it in the fridge for a few days, in case I feel like cooking again. Am I coming back to life so soon?

I pored over hundreds of posts today on a site for widows, and most of them confessed to feeling hopelessly alone and robbed of all happiness two, three, even four years after their loss. And everything in me said “no way, that is not going to be me.” Am I delusional?

Many said that the second year of widowhood is harder than the first, since the first year you have to confront all of the anniversaries and holidays alone for the first time, whereas in the second year you come to the realization that your life is going to be like this forever. “But not mine,” I told myself. I embrace the idea of future happiness, and feel today that my life is mine for the making. Am I just riding for a fall?

Shel gave me 20 beautiful years full of love and adventure, and that’s gotten me hooked. I want 20 more. I can’t have them with Shel, but does that mean that I can’t have them at all? He taught me how to be loved, and I owe it to him not to waste that lesson. Today, fog-free, the future looks a little brighter, although completely unknown and unknowable.


Ebb Tide

Posted April 12, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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I took this picture at Shel’s 67th birthday party, this past January.

This morning finds me
Tiptoeing through the empty house
Walking on eggshells
Sock-foot and soundless
Hoping not to crush any tiny mote of Shel
That might yet remain

I slip-slide from room to room
Opening and closing windows
Touching the places he left empty
Until I realize that
I am the eggshell
It’s myself I must not crush

Table For One

Posted April 10, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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This is my first night alone, friends and family having all returned to their regularly scheduled programming, as Shel used to say. And tonight, because grief has its own logic, it turned out that eating dinner alone was one of the harder things I’ve had to do lately.

I know, a lot of you probably couldn’t eat a thing at a time like this, but I’ve never been that way, and have now proven definitively that I never will be. Most of me thought that I should be eating something standing in the kitchen, or in front of my computer. A small, sane part of me remembered the words of the wise Hospice social worker, who advised me to begin right away to find “a new normal.”

All day today I’ve been thinking about the new normal. I can flush the toilet early in the morning without worrying about waking Shel up. I can open the blinds when I wake up, because he’s not still sleeping. I can have breakfast right after I open the blinds, because I’m not letting him get his sleep. And so on and so on, all through the day, until dinnertime, when I froze. But then I remembered some excellent chicken in red wine vinegar and crème fraîche left over in the fridge, from when Tom and I made dinner on the night Shel died.

I dared to set the table, pour wine, sit and eat without even a book in front of me. I’ll confess that I didn’t really taste what I was eating. But I did it. I sat at a table for one.

Dust In The Wind

Posted April 7, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America


My beloved husband Shel. 1/19/47 – 4/6/14.

Fit For A King

Posted March 26, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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DSC_8210Hospice has a thing they call respite care, which allows the caregiver (me) some time away from the patient (Shel). But actually, as you might imagine, I don’t actually want to be away from Shel, although I definitely do want to get away from thinking about cancer all the time. What’s my respite? Baking. Which is a good thing, since sweets are about the only food that appeal to Shel these days, so we’re in synch.

Today I wanted to bake something fancy, but I didn’t want to go to the store. I searched around for something I could make from my pantry and fridge, et voila, galette des rois! As I wrote here, eating galette des rois, a crispy buttery frangipane-filled treat, is an annual custom in France, deliciously done in early January. So making one at the end of March, not to mention making it rectangular instead of round, would give a Frenchman fits. Nonetheless, there you have it, my first homemade galette des rois. And really, it could scarcely be easier.

I followed David Lebovitz’s excellent recipe, with just a few tiny tweaks. He calls for orange zest, I used a few drops of orange oil instead. He calls for rolling out the puff pastry, but I had some all-butter puff in the freezer that is already sheeted out flat, so I just used it as it was, no muss, no fuss. (Seattle folks, get this at PFI) He calls for several chilling stages, but I just went ahead and put it together as soon as my puff pastry was thawed and popped it straight in the oven.

Decorating it is really fun, and is actually the reason I was drawn to this recipe. David demonstrates a cool edge-fluting technique that I’ve never used before, but am certain to use again. And drawing on the top to create that chevron pattern is an exercise in thinking about anything but cancer.

So there you have it, my respite solution, fit for a king, fit for Shel, and providing a sweet surprise for the next few folks that are here and hungry. Beats cancer any day.

Ears To The Ground

Posted March 16, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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DSC_7939Often we’re completely wrapped up in the sorrow of it all. Sometimes, though, we manage to lift our heads and inhabit the big, wide world. Sometimes, we even hang out on Facebook! And if I hadn’t paid attention to a little FB post from a local chef, kept my ears to the non-cancer ground for once, I wouldn’t have been able to put such a lovely dinner on the table. Yes, finally it’s about food again, because thanks to some good Hospice drugs, Shel has some of his appetite back!

DSC_8199Tonight, a day early, we had a beautiful corned beef and cabbage meal, thanks to our own Hitchcock Deli, which brilliantly provided house-corned beef and cabbage kits. Quelle idée, what a great idea! They assembled a beautifully corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, spices, a jar of house-made mustard, and a can of Guinness, plus a recipe. All I had to do was simmer it, and that was a good thing, since cooking has been getting really neglected around here. What I couldn’t manage to do was to find a white plate to photograph it on, so please forgive the oh-so-retro look here. It tasted way better than that.

It was actually just delicious, and I have to say that the corned beef was even better than the ones I’ve corned myself, which is saying a lot. Since most of you won’t have access to this cool little kit, let me say that adding a big can of Guiness to your corned beef simmering water really is a nice lick. And so Shel and I ate well, and praised the luck ‘o the Irish, who make such great literature and whiskey.

DSC_8203And for those of you who, like me, don’t drink beer, which is the logical drink with a meal simmered in Guinness, I’ll say that I surprised myself by walking into my little cellar and straight to this bottle, which turned out to be the perfect match.

So I heard via social media about the best and quickest route to a  lovely, lively Irish dinner kit, Shel’s been feeling well for a couple of days, and the kitties haven’t been fighting. Much. I’m keeping my ear to the ground for more good news and I hope you are too.


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