I didn’t know that opening that box containing pieces for a new kitchen island would open a box of memories and make me smile and laugh out loud. I didn’t realize, until it was all over, that the slow, tedious, hand-blistering, detailed work of putting those pieces together to create a beautiful, functional structure was the perfect metaphor for the journey through grief I’ve traveled these past two years.
I thought I was just finally getting an island for the kitchen.
The box was too heavy by far for me to carry into the house by myself, so I cut it open in the garage and started carrying the pieces into the kitchen, one by one. Slowly, a pile grew in front of the refrigerator, the white planks tipping precariously once when a curious Katje tried to navigate their height. I kept carrying and the pile kept growing until, at last, I brought in the last piece and stood for a moment, surveying the mess in front of me.
In all the time I’d admired this kitchen island on the website, and saved my pennies to purchase it, I’d secretly hoped that “Some Assembly Required” really meant just installing the shelves behind already-attached cabinet doors. Not so much. “Some Assembly Required” was actually a bit misleading, I thought, once more taking in the piles of pieces littering my kitchen floor. “Total Assembly Required” would be more accurate.
“Mama, are you sure you can do this?” My daughter came into the kitchen and looked around doubtfully. “It won’t fall down on me while I’m eating, will it?”
I stuck my tongue out at her. “Beary, do the drawers in your dresser slide in and out? Is your armoire still standing?”
When she answered yes, I said, “Well, I put those together – and I was eight months pregnant with you when I did it! – so I think I can manage this little island. Now scram while I get all this stuff sorted out!”
She giggled and ran off to play with the cats, and I got busy. I unearthed the directions, and started laying out the pieces in order.
It was time.
For the last two years, my daughter and I have eaten most of our meals on trays in front of the television. After Kevin died, I couldn’t stand sitting at our kitchen table, trying to get food past the grief in my throat, looking across at his empty seat, knowing he’d never smile at me again over a slice of deep dish pizza, or sigh with satisfaction after filling himself with roast beef and gravy. I moved the table and chairs into the basement and convinced my daughter that having our meals as a picnic in the front room would be so much fun. She happily agreed – partly because of the novelty, I’m sure, and probably partly so she could eat a meal without watching tears stream down my face.
Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain…then
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!
I looked at the directions, pulled the first two pieces toward me, and reached for the screwdriver. And I smiled, remembering all the times I’d put furniture together with Kevin and he always handed me the wrong screwdriver. He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, but taking a pile of random parts and assembling them into a bookcase or a television stand or a rocking chair just wasn’t his thing. We had a running joke, whenever I got underway with a project. Like our daughter, Kev would look doubtfully at all the pieces and say, “Sure you can do this, Baby Doll?”
I always replied, “Kev, I come from a long line of people who just get in there and figure out how to do it.” And he’d come back with, “Well, I come from a long line of people who HIRE people to get in there and figure out how to do it.”
We’d laugh, then he’d pull up a chair and read the directions out loud and hand me the wrong parts until finally I announced the project was finished. We put together an elliptical exercise machine, a desk and hutch for his office, and all of the Bear’s nursery furniture like that. Just the two of us, apprehensive about all the pieces and hardware, but game for an adventure, for a good laugh, for just spending time together. He was just so much fun to be around. I miss that.
I thought I might be sad putting the kitchen island together by myself. I thought the memories would overwhelm me and tears would stain the directions and I’d end up on the floor, just another broken piece among all the other parts scattered about. But it wasn’t like that. I felt happy and content and full of wonderful memories and even when I accidentally put a section together upside down and had to take it all apart, I didn’t get frustrated. I felt peace, I felt assurance.
I felt Kevin.
O, and when the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can’t contain your joy inside…then
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live
Sometimes I catch myself writing the date and I wonder how it can possibly be almost two years ago that Kevin died. Time is so weird and relative and fluid; it feels like it was just yesterday, it feels like it’s been a lifetime. And I still stumble through the hours and days and weeks and months, feeling broken, feeling unhinged, feeling like I will never be able to fit together all the bits and pieces of my shattered heart. My life couldn’t be more disassembled than that kitchen island scattered across the floor.
The kitchen island is complete now. It looks lovely and solid and functions perfectly.
And my life? My journey with grief? Well, that will never be completely finished; I know that. I love Kevin and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life. But through the grief, through the tears and the excruciating pain of loss, through the cries to God and the whispers of joy, through the laughter of my girl and the silence of the lonely nights – through it all, I’ve been picking my way through and sorting things out, putting the pieces of my life together, fastening them with moments of peace and bits of happiness.
It’s starting to come together.
Lyrics from “The Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)”, sung by Chris Rice.