Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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The No-Expiration-Date of Grief

“We chose a sunny Sunday. She was about four or five. We bought bunches of daisies for the graves of our family members and and a big cherry pie for later from the farm stand across the road. As we drove around the park with the saleswoman, looking for the four plots we were planning to pre-buy, I asked the saleswoman to stop the car in the section we were considering. I got out, much as one might do when looking at real estate, and lay down in the grass under the tree at the head of one of the plots.”

Nina Gaby, “On Mentioning that our Daughter Wants to be a Mortician” from What Remains,the many ways we say goodbye (Ed: Sandi Gelles-Cole and Kenneth Salzmann, 2019, Gelles-Cole Literary Enterprises)

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In the periphery of my consciousness is the date, December 6, 2019, and that it’s the anniversary of my father’s death in 1989. Brought even closer to home by my Facebook memory page which pops up with a photo of Mexican candles and my parent’s old Danish Modern mid-century menorah, the one I always hated as a child for it’s lack of traditional design, in which I mention my father’s passing. Ahh, I say to myself as I move on with my morning.

I sit down with a cup of coffee and share some emails with a dear old friend from high school who is trudging through her first holiday season without her husband. This is a phenomenon I know I will be experiencing more and more as I look towards my 70thbirthday. Who will be next has become a daily question. After the emails I visit my favorite literary site, the Brevity blog, to read today’s selection which is all about writing memoir after people have died. Clearly a theme for the day has emerged. Then I post on my Central Vermont Writer page about our upcoming planning meeting next week and use a photo of my father’s old Underwood typewriter in the post. OK. It’s starting to snow and the dog is pestering me to go out and play but my phone is buzzing.

My precious daughter texts from her office and we volley back and forth as I try to provide support for a work related decision she has had to make and the ramifications thereof. It’s snowing harder outside and I start to feel a familiar feeling that I can’t yet place. I am feeling so glad that I am home today and I can be at the other end of these emails and texts. And then of course it hits. Just before my father died, on a snowy winter day, I was a new therapist sitting in my new office, having just realized that the system I was working for–and health care in general–was a sea of shark infested waters, that maybe I had made a huge mistake, and in the midst of a panic attack I called my father. Now retired, infirm, sitting in his recliner watching the snow from his own window, he spent time reassuring me that I was fine. That systems suck. That I was above all the crap that was going on, and then he told me…. “You always have us.” Of course, I didn’t, at least not at the end of the phone line. He had not always been that supportive, but he had mellowed into a wise old man, not much older than I am now, and very much like how I am trying to be for my own daughter. The dog looks on in horror as I sob into the sleeve of my hoodie instead of taking him out for a frolic.

Shortly after that phone call with my father, maybe a week or two, on an equally snowy night, he died suddenly, his generous and crazy heart exploding while he watched Wheel of Fortune and now every year as winter approaches, I get a tic either in my left thumb or my right eye. It’s already been and gone this year so I figured we were pretty much done with the grieving.  Although I know better. Grief has it’s own shape and takes it’s own time. And when it surprises us it’s like we have that person back, even for a moment or two.

Anyway, here’s to all of us who have had losses near and far, old and new. Take your time, be kind to yourselves.

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Some great books on grief and writing about it…….