Sunday, Father Gary said a Mass for Elena. I'm told that this means that at a point in the Mass when they remember the dead they include Elena's name. As with past Catholic observances – baptisms for both girls, first communion for Maggie – I didn't go but I catered the party afterwards.
The mass gave Kim a reason to go back to the church. Gary knew how hard it would be and told Kim that even if she got all the way up to the steps of the church and couldn't enter, it was o.k. not to come in.
As an outsider, I've been impressed at how the Catholic church has staged life events that encourage people who have left to come back. You come back to the church to get married. When you have children you come back to get them baptized. Half a decade later you come back to prepare them for their first communion. Other religions have similar patterns. A periodic reason for you to come back and reaffirm your faith.
After the death of a child – whether young or old – how do you come back? Do the words still comfort? Are the rituals meaningful?
Kim faced her first trip back to the church together with her sister and brother, her parents, and Maggie. I communed with Elena in our kitchen. Elena loved to make pancakes with me. Crepes, dutch pancakes, the occasional waffle, and most often ordinary pancakes.
I find magic in the kitchen. Nothing really feels ordinary to me. I know there are people who buy mixes or batter in a bottle but I love the magic of mixing a few ingredients and getting something so satisfying. Sure, I've bought a mix while on vacation, but there in my own kitchen I can easily measure out a couple of cups of flour and add some baking powder, salt, and sugar. In another bowl I can crack a couple of eggs and add milk and a touch of oil. Then wet joins dry with just enough but not too much mixing.
Elena loved measuring out each ingredient. It was how I worked with Maggie on math when she was little. "What happens if we double the recipe?" or "There are three teaspoons in a tablespoon, how many teaspoons do we need if the recipe calls for two tablespoons?" Elena loved to crack the eggs and then beat them before adding the milk. But her favorite part was adding the color.
One day Elena asked if pancakes always had to be the same color. In the winter, Kim used to put food coloring into water in squirt bottles and let the girls paint pictures in the snow. Elena wanted to use the food coloring in the pancakes. She didn't just want one color of pancake. She wanted lots of colors. We settled on four.
From then on, we'd divide the batter into four bowls after it was all mixed together. She'd then use food coloring to create the colors she wanted. The brighter the better.
Sunday, while the rest of the family was in church I made the batter for green, yellow, red, and purple pancakes.
While people returned to the house I heated up a cast iron griddle across two burners. The surface of the pancakes brown a bit and the color dulls, but the edges remain brightly colored. And when you cut into them with your fork . . . nothing beats a purple pancake.
We saved the leftover batter and Maggie and I finished cooking them for dinner on Tuesday night. Maggie ate a ton. She needed to try each color and insisted on saving room for extra purples.