Half & Half

June08In our household the most important items on the grocery list were always coffee beans and “Half & Half”. Still are. People could find substitutes for other things, but no Half & Half to go in the coffee? All hell broke loose on a nice quiet Sunday.

You can’t even get Half & Half in the UK, where my husband was from. There is only milk, or cream (heavy cream), neither of which are quite right. We tried mixing them on a visit to London once, to simulate Half & Half, it didn’t work. It’s about ratios, people! Ratios. Same goes for a latte. I am a coffee and latte snob. Truly. I grew up drinking european espresso, lived in Seattle as coffee and Starbucks became what they are today, and have been perfecting my taste for all things coffee for close to 20 years. When we moved to Madison, I said to my husband, as long as I can find a Bikram yoga studio and decent coffee, I’ll go. Good thing I also had some job offers.

So secure am I in my coffee snobbery, that I used to claim to my husband that if he blind-folded me and fed me lattes from the different coffee shops in town, I’d be able to tell which one came from which locale. Oh, how I wish we would have done that! I really wanted to impress him with my distinguishing tastebuds. Especially after I failed the “blind taste-test” of the pickle chips…that’s right, I also have a strange obsession with Lays brand Dill Pickle flavored potato chips. Once hubs brought home a different brand, and I complained that they were sub-par. I insisted on proving their inferiority with a blind taste-test, which hubs eventually obliged to, after we got some Lays back in the house. And guess what, I couldn’t tell the difference. Ha ha!

Whatever. Back to the coffee. My parents, too, loved their afternoon espresso and pastries. It was a ritual part of their lives together. When I still lived in the same town, I’d often go over for coffee. My dad was the barista, and my mom the patissiere. It was something they did every sunday, “Kaffee und Kuchen”, as they call it in Austria.

A lot of criss-crossed memories have been running through my head. Especially since Father’s day came and went.

I’ve been thinking about how I have always described myself as being 1/2 like my mom, and 1/2 like my dad. Split right down the middle, half and half. I’ve also been thinking about how when my dad died, it was a huge loss for me. But it was a loss that got drowned in another loss.

I really admired my dad, he was a great father, a great person. I thought he’d live to become a wonderfully stubborn old guy, still insisting on driving and skiing into his 90’s. My dad lived one of the healthiest lives of anyone I have ever known. Never smoked, drank little, ate right, had a positive, light-hearted attitude, didn’t carry grudges or negativity around, exercised his mind and body his whole life. Yet he still ended up with heart-disease, and kidney disease. Neither of which had anything to do with the way he lived. When he called to tell me he had made the decision to stop dialysis, my world stopped. Then only one month after he died, we found out my husband had terminal cancer, and he died four months later. The shock of the unexpected loss of my husband, right after losing my dad, overtook me. It has been very hard to understand it, to absorb it, to separate it, to lay out the pieces in nice little strands and work through each one. It’s a tangly mess of grief, where my sadness is split between the loss of my dad, and the loss of my husband.

Logically, of course, I know their deaths aren’t related. Yet, there is nothing that will change the fact that they both died in short succession of each other and the tsunami of grief that came my way was one big monster of a wave that swallowed everything in sight. A big knotted mass of sea kelp and salt, coffee and cream, my dad, my husband, my past, my dreams.

And here my mom and I are, sharing this unusual journey of becoming widows together. A mother and a daughter. Each of us lost our other half, and are trying to catch our breath on this lonely shore. But if she’s a half, and I’m a half – even if it’s faulty logic – I have to believe that together we can become whole again.