Ice Cream Triggers

My 9 year old son, PJ, is kind of a no-frills dessert guy. He likes regular old chocolate M&M's. He prefers plain donuts to iced once. He'll pick a chocolate milkshake over a cone with sprinkles and if he does have ice cream, it's "naked." No candy, no fudge, no whipped cream. It must have skipped a generation because while his mama can sweet up a storm, PJ desserts like his Zayde (Yiddish for grandfather).

I lost my Dad on November 6th, 2017. Each day I get farther from it, but my grief keeps up with me. It's a shapeshifter. It started as an abusive partner, beating me every day until I was nothing but twisted up sadness and mangled emotions. Now, it's my stalker. It sneaks up on me and scares me with how swiftly it can stab me. It's not something that will get better if I wait it out. It's always chasing me down. Life goes on and there are happy moments and proud moments and great moments. Still, it's somehow the most cruel part of grief; the world does not stop for you.

A sweet friend of mine shared a story written by Nora Wong, a women who lost her son, suddenly. He posted it on the ten year anniversary of the day he lost his own beautiful daughter (losing a child, by the way, just might be the winner if grief was a contest). I read the piece, and felt profoundly that not only did this woman know grief, she understood mine. In the piece, she said that you can't transfer your love for someone you lose to someone else, that it was for them alone. The love doesn't go away and without its recipient, it takes up a strange space inside of you.

A few nights ago, PJ asked for dessert. He had a stellar day- great behavior and awesome school reports- and was just full of joy. I offered him a milkshake, his absolute favorite, but instead, he asked for "Vanilla ice cream with some chocolate in it? I will eat it with a spoon." I smiled at how "my dad" this request was and grabbed a bowl, the scoop, and a brand-new tub of Friendly's Fudge Ripple from the freezer.

I peeled off the lid, ran the scoop through the container and suddenly, I felt my heart stop. The smell was creamy and cool and the fine lines of fudge looked like tree rings swirled through the vanilla. It was after dinner in my parent's house, and my Dad was indulging in his weirdly no-frills luxury. I scooped some for PJ, and then grabbed a coffee mug and scooped some for myself. PJ dug right in, blissfully quiet as he ate his treat. I put a bite in my mouth and felt my throat close when I tried to swallow. It was too much. I could feel a kiss on the cheek from my Dad, his lips cold. It smelled like my Dad. It filled all of my senses and flooded the space where my love for him was.

A tiny sob slipped out and PJ's head was up like a shot. "Mommy, you are happy," he said, PJ-speak for please don't be sad. I wiped the look off of my face quickly but there were waves that felt akin to panic running through me. I walked out of the room to let PJ finish his ice cream and to try and clear the decks of my overwhelmed senses, where my dad was in every one but proximity.

For a second, I wasn't sure I would breathe again, but eventually, I felt it pass. I sat back down with my Boy and we ate our ice cream, chatting about trains and Go Noodle and whatever else was on his mind that day. But my stalker doesn't leave me alone. It's that empty space inside, ready to flood if Elton John comes on, or there is a blockbuster trade in the NHL, or I'm watching PJ do something mathematical. It's the split second between wanting to call my dad to talk about it and he's not there for you to call anymore.

I have been sitting on this post for months because I get to this point- where I should be wrapping it up- and I don't know what to say. I wasn't even sure if I was ready to share these feelings. I save most of my grief for when I am alone and inside of myself. I'm not sure if it's visible to the outside. But I come back to the Nora Wong article and realize that I am not the only one with empty space not for rent. I read her piece and knew that space and was relieved that someone could describe it so well.

If you are missing someone, if you are the compliant partner to your grief and feeling the ice of that empty space and you have somehow stumbled to this inarticulate place, I hope this helps.

I see you.

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