Breakfast Conversation

We weren’t rushing to get out the door. Maggie had stirred the coffee in the french press and then pushed the plunger at the perfect moment. She had poured a cup for me so that I would sit and have coffee while she ate her cereal. Kim poured a cup for herself and, not seeing the cup that Maggie had brought me, another cup for me.

“We need to do something about the stone this week,” I said to Kim.

She nodded. That would have been that except that Maggie looked up from her cereal.

“I don’t want a picture on it,” Maggie said.

“A picture on what?” I asked.

“Elena’s grave stone,” she answered. She gave me that look that asked how I could be so dumb. “Isn’t that what we’re talking about?”

“Yeah,” I said.

How did she know that that’s what we were talking about? She just knew. And to her participating in the discussion about what should go on her sister’s headstone was a natural to this nine year old as pouring milk over her Fruity Pebbles.

“Why don’t you want a picture?” I asked. Kim and I had already decided we didn’t want a picture but I wanted to know what Maggie was thinking.

“I don’t know. I just don’t like it.”

“What about a picture she drew?” I asked.

Maggie thought a moment. “That would be o.k.,” she said, “just not one of those photograph ones.”

Kim stood in the doorway listening. We looked at each other and then at Maggie.

I said, “We’re not going to put her picture on the stone. I’m not sure what we are going to put. Something simple.”

“Like what?” Maggie asked.

“Her name. Should we include her Chinese name as well?”

Kim nodded. “It was her legal name.”

“O.K.,” I agreed, “and the dates that she lived.” We could almost list each day separately on the stone but I meant birth date and date of death. “What about ‘beloved daughter’ of or something like that?”

Kim said, “No, but should it say something else? I want people to know how young she was.”

“Well,” I said, “we could write that – but really people will know. They’ll do the same subtraction that we do in the cemetary. They’ll see that she wasn’t even seven.”

“I guess,” Kim said.

“And,” I turned back to Maggie, “your mom is thinking of a pink stone.”

“Pink?” Maggie asked.

“Not bright pink,” I said. “More of a soft rose color.”

“Are we getting a flat stone or one that tips?” Maggie asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think we should go back to the cemetary and walk around her section and look at some of the other stones.”

And so we will.

Maggie finished the milk at the bottom of the bowl. She took her dishes into the kitchen. Just an ordinary breakfast conversation with what remains of our family.

Published in: on August 15, 2006 at 9:20 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It took us 2 years to give our daughter a headstone. It was the most difficult and nauseating and unfair thing to have to do. I have alsways admired the Jewish tradtion of not picking out a stone for a Year. At the very least, it allows 12 months to come to terms with the awful task.
    Allow me to share what our daughter’s stone says: I am oddly proud of it now, after taking so long to figure it out. It is rose colored(!) and says her full name:

    Louisa Ceylon Neel
    Cherished Daughter and Sister
    October 12 1998-November 2 1999
    “In one of the stars I shall be Laughing.
    In one I shall be Living”

    then, at the request of her older sister, we put a sketch of a lamb above the nickname she had given her in her short life..”Our Coosey”

    May you all find the strength to complete this terrible task, but please also know that you only have to do it when you are all ready…or as ready as one can be…there is no time limit.

    Thinking of you all

  2. (With all the humility of someone who knows only enough to know that I have no clue what it feels to be you, or in your situation…)
    “What’s left of your family” is the love, devotion, and self-sacrifice that makes you a family. You will forever have those; you (collectively) will forever be you, together, forever a part of each other. Your family has been separated, not taken apart, not lost. Your FAMILY remains. Forever a part of you, and you forever a part of it.
    I say this with no intent of a lecture, no reproach. This is what I truly believe, what I’ve come to learn after ‘playing’ Dad for 11 years. We touch each other, and are forever changed, irrevocably becoming something new together, and are forever a part of the other. I will always be a Dad, my family will always be a part of me.
    Your family remains. It’s a part of you- it will always be there.

    (I almost didn’t send this- I have no right to comment on your situation. You can delete it if you want.)

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