As I shaped the dough of the sticky white bread held in my hands, I thought about how much it reflected my grief. My pain and loss clung to me like that sticky dough not letting me go. Our family was so happy together, and now I’m realizing that I took it for granite at times. I never really understood how blessed I was with my family, until the day my husband Aaron died.
Our whole lives, we had food on our table, my sons got married to nice women, and Aaron and I were warmly welcomed by our neighbors like family. Life just seemed like it couldn’t get any better... until the day my husband caught a sickness. I tried every home fixing remedy that I learned from my mother as a young girl, but nothing would work. I tried harder than I ever had, to pry the hands of that evil force off of my beloved husband… but it was too strong. My husband was dying, and I couldn’t deny it. Finally, after almost a month of his struggling and my fighting, he let go of the evil force holding on to him- and he went with it. My sadness and grief brought me down, and my sunny attitude left forever. My sons and daughters-in-law grieved with me, as they loved Aaron as well, but it wasn’t the same. After I thought I just couldn’t take any more, another anguish snatched me. My only sons caught the same sickness as their father. I cried for help, desperately begging for anything to keep my only family alive. I couldn’t live without my husband, let alone my sons! They were my only hope and remaining family. I could not keep the force of death away from my family though, and had to accept it. After my sons joined their father, only my daughter-in-laws and I remained.
So here I am now, preparing a meal for my two daughters to bring to them, acknowledging the loss of their husbands and my sons. I finished kneading the dough, grief that stung, and slid it into the stone oven.
* * *
When my mother-in-law brought the freshly baked bread over to my house, I thanked her and welcomed her inside. Of course I was grieved deeply by the loss of my husband, but not as much as Naomi, my second mother. As his mother, she loved my husband more than I ever could.
“How are you feeling today?” I asked her out of concern.
“I’m alright Hannah. I wonder what will happen though now that I am a widow. I am too old to remarry, but still want a family.
“Naomi, we’re your family! Even if Catherine doesn’t- I’ll stay with you until the end.”
“You need to start a new life without me. You’re young enough! Get remarried, have kids, and maybe visit me every once in a while; but please don’t cling to me. I’ll only pull you down.”
As I went home that night, I thought about Naomi’s conversation with me. She had a point about Catherine (my sister-in-law) and I still being able to remarry. We could technically start a new life and have another family to call home. I started to get excited, laying in my bed thinking about how I wouldn’t have to be alone forever. But then I realized what would happen to Naomi. If I left her, I would probably never see her again. She talked a bit about moving to another town where she could start fresh but stay a widow. She thought it would be better to get away from this town, which was only holding her back with the memories. I thought it was a good idea, but still didn’t know about leaving. I decided that night, I needed to talk with Catherine and find out what we would do together.
The drive to Catherine ’s house always made me a bit nervous. Catherine was a tough woman, one you didn’t want to mess with. But she was extremely kind to me and Naomi, and helped us out whenever she could- so I knew I needed to at least ask.
“Okay, so what’s this unexpected call about?” she asked when we sat down in her living room.
“Well, it’s about Naomi… I’m worried about her. She wants to move where she can start a new life as a widow, and not have to worry about her past. I completely agree with her moving, but don’t agree with her second request. She wants us to leave her Catherine…
and have a chance at remarrying. But anything could happen to her out there, and I just can’t bear to leave her with no family to watch out for her. I came to ask what you would do.”
“You came to ask me for advice? That’s a first.” she chuckled, then gave a disparaging expression. I could tell she was deeply saddened by her husband’s death. They were planning to have kids, but never got the chance to.
...“I would agree with letting her move. She doesn't deserve to live every day of her life remembering only the worst of her past.” She paused and looked sorrowfully at me.
“I’m sorry Hannah. As much as I love Naomi, I can’t stay. My life has already been flipped upside down, and I want kids and a good husband. As much as it pains me to have to start over and leave her- I have to.”
“What? You can’t leave her though Catherine! I know you want a family, but you can’t abandon our mother-in-law. It would be inhumane!”
“Hannah, I told you. I hate to do it but…”
“Look. I’m sorry, but I’ve made up my mind.”
* * *
I planned to move in the month of June. It was already half way through May, so I knew I needed to get cracking on house hunting. I’m not usually the type of person to procrastinate, but when you're shaken up from a death… you’ll understand.
Catherine’s leaving this morning, and will be coming over to say goodbye on her way out. Hannah said she’d come to my house as well this morning to say goodbye. As her car pulled up into my driveway, I stepped outside to greet her.
My mood had improved greatly within the last month as I started to accept Aaron’s death, which makes me glad because when my mood improves, so does Hannah’s.
“Good morning sleepyhead!” I called out from the porch.
My daughter in-laws' hair was pulled up into a messy bun, to match her baggy sweatpants and tank top. She looked like she had just crawled out of bed.
She gave a long yawn before answering, “Good… morning.”
“You look like you just got up. What time did you set that finger tapper thing for?”
“For the tenth time, It’s a phone mom.” she smiled.
“I set it for 5:30am. Why does she have to leave so early?”
“Oh, I don’t know darling. Maybe she’s just dying to get away from us.” I gave her a wink.
Just then, Catherine ’s car pulled up next to Hannah’s in the driveway. Her hair was straightened, she had on a nice shirt and leggings, and was obviously ready for a road trip somewhere far away. She stepped out and walked up to us on the porch.
“Well. I’m ready to go… I just came to say goodbye.”
“You aren’t going to stay for a bit?” I asked, hurt a bit. She didn’t want to even be here, I could tell.
“Um, I don’t think I can. It’s a 30 hour road trip, and if I want to get to…”
“You know what, that’s fine.” Hannah tartly replied.
We each gave her a small hug, and she was on her way. Just like that. No tears, no thank you, no extended goodbye, no nothing. I was honestly surprised, but wouldn’t let it ruin my good day. I could always face-time her on the finger tappy thing.
When Hannah and I went inside, we made breakfast. Biscuits and gravy, fresh fruit, and drip coffee. As we were eating, I decided this would be the best time to tell Hannah I was moving next month. I didn’t want to startle her with the news, but I thought maybe if I got along with my life quicker, she would too. I really wanted her to get remarried, because she was too young to go through a loss like this. She deserved better.
“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we were discussing with moving… and I think it’s getting close to time.” I casually said.
“Oh of course! When are you thinking of going? August, September maybe?”
I was heartbroken to tell her I was leaving so soon. But I had to. I sighed. “No, I’m leaving next month.”
There was a small pause before Hannah spoke again, and I thought I had hurt her feelings… but I was surprised at her response.
“Okay, when are we leaving?” She cheerily replied.
I was shocked. And confused, “Hold on, what do you mean, we?”
“Look Naomi, you’re my only family left. My only mother! I can’t go anywhere without you, or else I’d be miserable my whole life. I’ve decided I’m going with you, even if that means not starting a family of my own.”
“Oh Hannah. I can’t keep you from following your heart. I would rather you go on your own.”
“Naomi, this is following my heart. Wherever you go, I’ll go. Wherever you stay, I’ll stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. I’ve made up my mind and won’t leave you.”
So that’s how it was. Hannah and I packed the house up the rest of that month, and ordered a moving truck to take our things. When we were finally ready, I asked her one more time if she was sure she wanted to do this- and she told me absolutely. I was secretly overjoyed that Hannah was staying with me, because now I would not be alone.
* * *
Naomi wanted us to move somewhere on the West coast, and I agreed. We got a small house on the beach with Naomi’s retirement money she had saved. Don’t even ask me how she got a beach property on the West coast.
When we arrived at the house, I was excited to start my new life with my mother in-law. We ate our first meal in the house together, on the back porch. It overlooked the sandy beautiful beach and I wanted to run across that soft sand and feel it squish between my toes, getting closer to the deep blue waves. It was totally picturesque with the ocean, beach, and pink and red sunset above. It just couldn’t get any better could it?
After living in our new house for a week or two, I decided we needed some more groceries- so I got in my car and drove down to the nearest Walmart. I picked out some meals for the week along with a treat for the two of us. I got ingredients for a peach cobbler and thought Naomi and I could bake one together. When I got to the canned fruits though, the peaches were on the top shelf, and I couldn’t reach them. I didn’t want to look awkward and get embarrassed, so I tried to step on my cart to get to them, but I accidentally lost my step and fell off. Luckily I fell on my butt so no major damage was caused, other than embarrassment. A man around my age walked up to me sitting on the tile floor, and offered his hand to help me up. I respectfully declined, and got up myself.
“Um, I can reach that for you if you’d like me to.” He said quietly. He was much taller than me, so I knew I couldn’t say no.
“Yes, that would be helpful. Thank you.”
He pulled a can of peaches down and handed it to me. He looked a bit shy, but happy to meet someone new. I felt bad to just leave after he so graciously helped me out of my embarrassing height issue. So I decided to strike up a conversation. The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what to say to a stranger I just met in a grocery store. So I settled on saying something about myself.
“I just moved here, so I guess I’m a bit new to finding my way around the store.” I said hoping for a response.
“Oh that’s nice. Where you from?” He curiously asked.
“Massachusetts. I just moved here with my mother in-law.”
“Did you come with any other family or friends?”
“Unfortunately, no. We’re actually both widows. Her husband and son, who was my husband, both died from a sickness. We’re not really sure what it was though, because we didn’t go to the hospital. My mom, well my mother-in-law, is really into home medicine and stuff, so she doesn’t really trust other people with her family."
I felt my cheeks get flushed. I totally ruined the moment.
“I’m sorry, that was probably way more information than you needed about me.”
“That’s alright” he gave a small laugh. “I actually like hearing family stories, even if they’re a bit sad.”
We were starting to block space in the aisle, and I knew I needed to get moving… but I just really liked talking to this guy and wanted to hear more. I decided to take a risk, and invited him to lunch with me.
“Sure.” He said, “I’d actually love that.”
I felt my heart skip a beat, and I floated all the way through my grocery list. I knew this was technically breaking the rule of ‘stranger danger’ but oh well, he seemed nice enough. I got there a bit early and told the waiter I was expecting someone. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so excited before. And you know what? I’m okay with meeting this guy, even if you think I’m the strangest woman in the world for meeting a random person. I caught myself watching the restaurant door open and close as people walked in and out. Finally after about ten minutes, I saw my mystery man walk in. As he was walking to my table though, I realized I hadn’t even asked if he was married, let alone dating someone else! I needed to get that question out of the way before I got all emotional.
“Hey! Sorry I’m a bit late, my cashier took longer than I expected.” He chuckled as our waiter gave him some water and a menu.
“No problem at all! I’m just glad you could make it.”
We looked at our menus deciding what to eat for a bit, while I thought about how to bring up the question.
“Uh, so this might be a bit of a weird question… but are you like married or anything? Because then I feel like this would be wrong- if you know what I mean.” My hands were getting a bit shaky now.
He smiled before answering. “No, I’m not in any relationships right now.”
“Oh, okay good.” I felt my face get a bit hot, because now he obviously knew I liked him.
“Well, are you ready to order?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.
We ordered our food, and talked through the whole meal. I found out his name was James, he was 30 years old, and worked as an English teacher for the middle school. He was very kind, a little bit quiet, and very handsome. (in my opinion at least) After lunch, James asked me if I would like to have a meal together again sometime. I leapt at the opportunity and told him I’d love that. We exchanged phone numbers, and were on our way.
When I got home that night, Naomi and I had iced tea on the back porch and I told her all about James. How he helped me with the can of peaches, our lunch conversation, and the second lunch request.
Oh Hannah darling! You’re in love aren’t you. She asked me.
I guess I am! I replied.
Well then, you must go again and get to know him better.
You’re okay with me doing that?
Pft! You’re an adult girl! I want you to get a nice guy you can trust, and have a family. You don’t deserve to be a widow like me your whole life.
And she was right. I couldn’t stay a widow, and couldn’t wait to see James.
* * *
3 years later…
Today is Hannah and James’ second wedding anniversary. I could not be more overjoyed for them. My daughter-in-law had found love again, with a wonderful husband who takes care of her. They live with me, or at least I live with them, and we make a great family.
I am in my kitchen now, making a loaf of Christmas bread for Hannah and James celebrating their love for each other. This time, as I shaped the dough, I saw only my blessings and gratefulness that stuck to it. Those blessings are what filled my heart. As I set my joyful Christmas bread on the dining room table, our family sat down to eat together. I thought about my daughter-in-law Hannah and all she had done for me. She chose to stay with me the whole way, even in my grief. She encouraged me to keep going, like I encouraged her to have a relationship. She was a true daughter if I ever had one, and I'm not trying to brag or anything... but let's face the facts. Like mother, like daughter.