day 104 {brown butter apple pie}

It's the seemingly little things that throttle me back into the harshness of my reality. Tonight I was folding laundry, and when I came to the dinner napkins there were only three of each pattern. Everything about a meal at home makes me ache for him, but the napkin thing especially tugs at my sense of balance.

I always bought napkins in sets of four.

Now I only need three on normal evenings.

That fourth, lonely napkin sits cast aside in the drawer until it is needed every third day. By the third day there are three mismatched napkins, longingly waiting to be put to good use.

Those mismatched napkins remind me everyday that there is a piece of our family missing. They gather in the draw, and seem to scream at me every time I open it—"he is never coming back".

Then the third day comes, and all is as it should be—napkins in sets of four, together again. Of course, our life doesn't go back to normal. Mikey does not suddenly reappear. But the napkins are in order. Something is in order, and as it should be for a change.

Those moments are the sense of control I crave.

I gave much thought to Thanksgiving this year. Should I go far away? Should I cook? Should I go to a friend's nearby? In the end, I realized I needed to retain some sort of control. If I chased myself from the kitchen, that would solve nothing.

I'm worried how it will feel to roast the turkey, knowing there is no one to shoo away from the crackly, golden skin. Hopefully I'll get the spice scented cranberry sauce going tomorrow—he would sneak into the fridge and eat spoonfuls of it. The stuffing is something Mikey always lovingly prepared, and I'm not yet sure if I will make it. I'm going to make that call closer to Thursday.

Last year, I made a new dessert for Thanksgiving and Mikey loved it. Todd and Diane can vouch for it too, since they made their version of it recently. It was a brown butter apple pie, and yes, it's as amazing as it sounds—plus it doesn't require much more effort than a regular apple pie. You just brown some butter to add a warm, toffee-like flavor to filling. I'm going to make that pie again, but perhaps adjust the salt, since I'm sure they'll be a few tears in the filling too.


  • LiztheChef

    It feels stupid to say that time helps, but I am remembering the year I lost a baby and then my husband left me over Thanksgiving. It took lots of time, but I learned to downhill ski, and lots of other “stuff”. I had (adult) boyfriends/lovers for the first time… Tuesday will be our 15th first date anniversary. X0 Liz

  • starfold

    Jennie, I’ve never commented before but I think of you often. I know it’s useless to say this, but I’m just so sorry for your loss and I wish you and your family the best on the planet. Have you read Dear Sugar, the advice column? She did a piece called The Obliterated Place for a father who lost his son, and although it’s not the same as your situation I think she gets what it’s like in that dark, caving-in place…

  • Anna Bee

    Jennie, that apple pie is surely tasting great – and the tears will make it even more special. I know cliches don’t help but you can get through Thanksgiving step by step – maybe this will take babysteps but these steps will make your pain less and less sharp. I am wishing you the strength and smiles you’ll need along the way…

  • J @ ... semplicemente j ...

    I read your posts faithfully and am always afraid to post the wrong words or sentiments, as i do not want to be disrespectful. This post spoke to me I felt i wanted to share the following story with you.
    When I was young I lost an amazing friend. He was wonderfully happy, the life of the party and a takented musician. Without thinking one day I mentioned something that reminded me of him in front of his grieving girlfriend. I caught myself midway and apologized for not being sensitive and inflicting her pain by my story. She then corrected me and said: “Thank you for remembering him, thank you for talking about him. I love him to be present in my life with the memories and moments that remind me and remind you of him.”
    I still remember that moment shared with her to this day. And respectfully I tell you that I felt that moment again as I read your post. What beautiful moments to remember as he stole the cranberry sauce from the fridge or the yummy cracking skin. How wonderfully present he felt in your words. Please know that I am not trying to minimize the pain you must feel. I am just saying that I felt your love towards him in your words, I felt the amazing presence he had and will always have in your world, and it was powerful.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. May your life be full of warmth, and a traditional stuffing, a new stuffing or no stuffing at all. It will be what you need it to be …
    Respectfully, J

  • Janis

    You always leave me wanting to say something. Anything that can make you feel the slightest bit better. I can’t. So let me tell you a story…
    My dad died when I was a young woman (23). 5 months later was Thanksgiving. Inbetween my sister and I took tap dancing lessons because we knew we had to cheer our family up and we would do a routine. We took months of classes and the “Big Day” came. It was our time to cheer everyone up. We laced up our tap shoes, cued music, and we started our routine. First 5 seconds in we started crying and stood there slightly moving our feet. No one laughed BUT that was long ago and we still talk about it. Hang in there sweetie. I know hollow words but it is the same as a virtual hug.

  • rachel

    I so glad you reposted this recipe. Because I’m a recent follower of your blog, I never would have found it otherwise. I am so relieved that someone else wasn’t impressed by apple pie like I have never been. I love apples but not with cinnamon. I don’t even like the smell of it. I can’t not wait to try this.
    The first thanksgiving after Matthew died was actually the day we buried him. So , even 15 years later, there is a thread of sadness that weaves itself throughout the day. This Thanksgiving I will be sitting down with my three year old nephew, Matthew. And even though he is named for all that we have lost, I will look into his bright, young eyes and see hope. I pray that by some miracle that Thanksgiving is peaceful and wonderful for you and girls.
    PS its ok if you cant make the stuffing this year. That first Thanksgiving, my family ate at Cracker Barrel.

  • Sue Gfeller

    I am sooo sorry for your loss. I know that sounds empty, but I lost a 22 year old daughter in ’08. The grief comes and goes, and comes and goes, etc. I pray that you make it through the upcoming holidays. Bless you and your family. Sue in Lakewood, Co.

  • Georgie

    I love brown butter on everything. I have fond memories as a child of eating it on pasta with Parmesan cheese, to this day it’s one of my favorite, dishes. Sending you the sweetest holiday wishes.

  • Cathy

    Jennie, I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now and wanted to tell you that I tear up at posts like this, not only for your loss but for the fact that you are one brave lady who has decided to learn to live with a Mikey-shaped hole in your heart. Thank you for the recipes, memories and observations. Blessings to you and your family.

  • Rachel

    Food is so laced with memories…cemented in by the aromas…and triggered by them as well. They send us slamming back into the past as fast as a song can, with all the emotions attached. Even so…I can’t help feeling that food and cooking, even those dishes so connected to Mikey, will be what helps to heal. I hope you get back to cooking soon..I think you will find it more comforting than not…it’s in the kitchen that I feel most connected to my mother…whom I lost in a sudden car accident 6 years ago…and grieved over hard for two years…when I’m cooking she is so present…in a good way…I hope you eventually feel this with Mikey too…

  • Maria

    Jennie you are amazing, cloth napkins at dinner, with kids?! When my kids were little (we have 3) someone always spilled something so out came the roll of paper towels, after awhile the roll of paper towel replaced the paper napkins, even now when we set the table for dinner the roll of paper towels sits on the table…
    I have no words that can make this Thanksgiving any easier…I wish I did…but I bet that piece of pie will help, I’m making your pie for Thanksgiving…

  • Maria

    Jennie I finished the book the year of magical thinking by Joan Didion, if you want it I can mail it to you…I buy my book s on eBay and I rather give it to you if you want to read it…

  • Melissa

    Dear Jennie,
    I continue to follow your blog closely as we share such similar stories. I have been thinking of you and your young daughters as you enter this holiday season. Your imagery of the 3 napkins is so powerful and reminds me of how I used to describe that our family (of 4 before John died) was like a table with 4 legs and then we lost one of our legs, and we were now a 3-legged table trying to shift our weight in order to keep the table upright. Sometimes we were able to do so more effectively, other times the table faltered under the sheer weight of all the change and the absence of what I felt had been the strongest leg. And honestly, a few times the table collapsed because it just didn’t like the unfairness of it’s new reality and the responsibilities that went along with it.
    I have found and continue to find, that the anticipation of the day (whatever “the day” is–birthday, holiday, etc.) is sometimes worse than the actual day. Because the actual day, you will rise and go through your day just like you have had to do every day since Mikey died. He will be forever missed and missing–as is John.
    As you make your pie and gather around the table, with or without the stuffing, honor your tears if they come–“there is sacredness in tears; they are not the mark of weakness, but of strength” (Washington Irving).
    Giving thanks for you and your blog, and your willingness to walk your journey in a beautifully, heart-wide-open way.
    Deep peace to you,

  • SamCyn

    It’s funny…Just this morning I asked my husband what he’d like me to make/bring to his parents for Thanksgiving aside from stuffing, and he said “apple pie”…I know it may sound silly, but I will make this apple pie (a first for me) for my husband in your honor, for the love you shared with your husband and the strength and courage you demonstrate each day, especially as you experience all your “firsts” with you daughters. Our prayers are with you and your family.

  • Carrie @ No More Tomorrows

    Take all your napkins, mix them up and pick randomly. 🙂
    Because life is messy, disordered and random.
    I wish you peace this week. May you feel Mikey’s presence in a way that soothes and comforts your grieving heart.

  • Sara

    This recipe for brown butter apple pie is the reason I found your blog a number of months ago. I bookmarked it and began to follow it semi-regularly until your husband passed away. Now I follow it regularly, many times with tears, hoping that you will be able to manage the unbearable grief and loss that you have been asked to shoulder. Thank you again for this recipe and for your candid posts. You are truly a woman of strength.

  • Thea

    Thank you for sharing your stories about Mikey. May we all remember our loved ones who have passed in such detail and elegance. Happy Thanksgiving to you and the girls. xo

  • Dana

    On a side note that I find your use of cloth napkins both laudable and awesome; why not mix things up and go with a mix of napkins?
    It isn’t very traditional to not be matchy-matchy with your napkins, but maybe not having them scream at you twice a week would be a good thing.

  • megan

    I made your Brown Butter Apple pies and have prayed for you all day. As I share them tomorrow, I will continue to pray for you and your girls. xo

  • Cathy from Arizona

    I have not gone through your sorrows but I believe that somewhere down the road, you will be able to understand and believe this message. My prayers are with you and your daughters.
    There is no sorrow that God cannot heal.
    There is no damage that He did not feel.
    Moment by moment, He’s there where you hide,
    Tenderly holding you close as you cry.
    Jesus, the Lord of the lonely inside,
    Jesus, the Lord of all love crucified.
    Michael Kelly Blanchard