If You Don’t Know What to Say, Bring Food

People have been telling me how much courage I have by taking this risk to step out of my comfort zone by quitting my job and coming to Ballymaloe.  And though I don’t want to minimize the risk to move out of my comfort zone, I really can’t say I’m courageous.  What I’m doing is challenging, yes, but truly more fun than courageous.

I cannot let May 2nd go by without acknowledging the true courage I have had the privilege to witness and walk with in my friend Sue.  Sue lost her seven year old daughter Becca on May 2, 2002, from a case of the flu that proved fatal when it went to Becca’s heart.  If I remember correctly, I got through Sue’s front door with a sandwich.  Mind you, it was a pretty good sandwich, feta cheese, cucumber, and red onion with mayonnaise  on toasted sprouted grain bread.  I’m pretty sure it took a few such sandwiches a number of days in a row for her to begin talking to me.  To my mind, what makes Sue and her husband Bob so incredibly courageous, however, is that five years later they went to China to adopt another little girl, KNOWING THE COST.  Knowing the cost of loving a child when at anytime he or she can be snatched from you.  We all take that risk at some level when we have children, but when a couple loses a child and deliberately chooses to love again?  Now that’s courage.

My next point, however, is that by the mere fact of being human we will suffer in this life.  No one escapes suffering and each person’s suffering is as individual as their DNA.  I personally believe that the loss of a child cuts the deepest.  Please, please do not ever say to a person who has just lost a child, “She/he is in a better place.”  Instead, show up with dinner or a tart (recipe below) and a companionable silence that lets the bereaved mother or father know that you are not afraid to listen to their sorrow.  By the way, Sue, I prayed to Becca this morning to help me to not take myself so seriously and to give me a good day. And she did.  This recipe is for you.  And I hope you don’t mind that I share this poem.  You are the one who is truly courageous.  And, according to Conor (my son), a better baker.  All my love.

The Chocolate Hazelnut Tart from Friday.

The Chocolate Hazelnut Tart from Friday.

Mother Loss 

The agony of mother loss

is so deep, so naked

we watching are

stunned into silence.

Unfathomable sorrow

so wrenching,

it stifles our breath

and we back away.

Mother loss

Mirrors our fear

Burns in our hearts


We cringe and cower,

turn in on ourselves


when we should reach out

and hold you in a warm embrace.

We mothers

see our children

in your lost child.

Her absence

indelibly present among us.

Well-intentioned words fall flat.

Gestures fail to console

the inconsolable.

Your torment belies

our efforts to cure the incurable.

We are sorry.

Unable to bring her home

we stand by helplessly.

We hover

We stay away

We stumble in our urge

to wrap our arms

around the one

whose reach comes back empty.

We know that we too

would strain and tear

as desperately toward the butterfly

that flutters beyond your grasp.

We see her too in the fleeting

glimmer of your smile

as you watch and remember

before wraith-like

she flits away on luminous wings.

Our promise—such as it is—


Is to weep with you,

Bear with you

As you labor the loss

Of the precious one

You birthed

Such a short time ago.

We will never forget her.

We promise.



10 thoughts on “If You Don’t Know What to Say, Bring Food

  1. That was the most beautiful gift I have ever received on this , the worst of my days. I forgot how beautiful that poem was. I can appreciate so much more now. I can never thank you enough for all your gifts but most of all your friendship. 😘 Glad Becca helped you today😇 . Love you.


    • Michelle – you may have shown me that poem previously, but it really tugged my heartstrings today . Sue, it is a loss like no other and when I occasionally see you, I look into your eyes and think of the children that we have lost. I think to myself – she knows exactly what I am feeling. This too is my ” bad month” but we seem to carry on but will never forget – Good friends are such a gift.
      Not even words sometimes- just a friend’s quiet presence.


  2. How’s it going ? I am going to attempt to make that chocolate hazelnut tart when I have time off this summer ! Hope all is going great for you 😀


  3. Hey Mick, I did a bit of editing — mostly comma issues. Beautiful post. Did you write the poem? It’s not clear. I also added my FB account for sharing until we get you set up. Because you have me as an admin/editor, I couldn’t FB like it as a reader. Love you. Great to hear your voice in these posts! xxx Elise


  4. I remember you sending me a copy when you wrote this poem. So lovely. So heartbreaking. And what you write now is so spot-on. In 2008 or so, when my 20 yr old niece tragically died in a single car accident (texting!) in Indiana, I had been out of touch with Bob’s side of the family for many years, but I remembered this beautiful baby girl and child from the time she was born. I needed their home address to send a sympathy card, and so I got in touch with my other sister-in-law in Seattle. Terri described in a return email feeling so very awful at the funeral, because so many people (traditional Baptists) approached the girl’s frozen-faced mother to say “Amanda’s in a better place now, with Jesus.” At the end of the funeral day, Terri sat next to the bereaved mom and quietly listened as Tanya said she just couldn’t stop thinking about that final morning and the last words she spoke to her daughter who was leaving the house, late again for her community college classes. The scene played out over and over in her head, she said. Tanya vividly remembered standing in the kitchen with her hand on her hip, not really angry but –you get it, that “grrrr..”–as her daughter tossed her a big “Bye Mom!” and a smile over her shoulder and walked out the door forever: “Amanda!” Tanya called out, “I can’t believe you went in MY drawer and took my last clean pair of underpants!? When are you going to do your laundry?!” Those two women, mothers of my children’s cousins, sat there a long time, arm in arm, just silently crying together, Terri wrote. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I read about it.


  5. Anne, Hello! Thank you for the thoughtful reading of my posts and the trip down memory lane!! What a delight to wake up this morning to read them! It’s especially nice to see my writing reflected through the eyes of someone who goes so far back with me witness as we are to the ebbs and flow of each other’s lives. Tragic story about your niece but also so poignant in the mother-daughter humor. What mother out there doesn’t get that? I hope you enjoy the rest of your leap and I look forward to hearing more about the trip:) Thanks again for your comments.


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