the great unknown

Everything, and nothing. That is what’s swirling through my mind at this precise moment. Most days my mind is filled with so many scattered thoughts, and none of them seem strong enough to wrestle control, offering me the ability to focus.

I crave clarity. My mind aches for it in a way I can’t put into words. Sometimes a lump forms in my throat, forcing tears to spill from my eyes and trickle down my cheeks—almost as though my heart and mind are trying to purge themselves of all the uncertainty that has dug in its piercing claws.

Fear is something I’ve never let get in the way of my happiness. I think this was always something I had in me, but it was a trait thrust into the spotlight the moment I watched my father take his very last breath. The moment between life and death is an intense one. I witnessed the last breath of life escape from my father’s body, then stared at it, in awe of the delicate nature of life—one second a body contains the essence of a person, perhaps their soul, and the next it is simply a collection of flesh and bones.

My father was 49 when he died, and I walked away from that hospital room vowing to never wonder about the “what ifs” life constantly hurls at us. I was determined to live life as if every day were my last. I would make each moment count, and my decisions would be dictated by my wants, not fears. If you think about every day being your last, then really what fear is there in taking chances? Hell, if today is my last day, my last breath, I want to make it count.

And then one day, 14 years later, that fearlessness was robbed. I always thought myself indestructible, like a diamond. I read someplace that, contrary to popular belief, diamonds can be broken if hit at a precise angle with extreme impact. It is supposedly very hard to do, but not impossible. Last August, the blow fate dealt my family was quite precise, and with extreme force—and just like that my fearlessness was gone, pick-pocketed ever so swiftly from my consciousness.

Now, my mind feels crippled with worry—”please don’t let this end, I want to savor this moment forever” is all I can think. When I look towards the future, anxiousness burrows into my thoughts, reminding me that tomorrow is not a guarantee. The truth is, tomorrow is a carrot dangled before us every day. Fourteen months ago that carrot was incentive to keep going, keep moving forward to embrace the new opportunities that awaited. Right now, tomorrow simply means that the here and now has to come to an end, and the idea of tomorrow is an intangible that only hope can conjure.

I want to believe I’m getting a little closer to restoring hope in my heart and mind. Finding hope and flipping fear the middle finger is a tremendous task in dealing with grief. It often feels elusive. I will not go down without a fight, though, and I feel comforted in the fact that at least I recognize the fear. It is now in my “to-do” pile, plucking its talons from my fibers high on my list of priorities.

The reality is it’s a lot of work, and right now feels like a full-time job. Sometimes I want to scream at the proverbial gods and say “go pick on someone else already”—”haven’t you batted me around like a cat hunting its prey enough for this lifetime”. Then I hesitate—because to really utter those words seems like it would be a challenge they might actually take me up on!

And so, I continue to continue. The act of moving forward requires a suspension of disbelief now. Rather than confront each day as it is my last—a strategy that worked since 1998, it’s time to upgrade my operating system. So I struggle every day to believe that today, the here and now—the moments, they are just precursors to all the hope that lies in tomorrow. What I can’t have or accomplish today is simply something to look forward to achieving tomorrow, or dare I even say the day after that.

Baby steps, right?

These thoughts lingered a lot as I read Luisa Weiss’ new book, My Berlin Kitchen. So much of her story is one we can all relate to—who hasn’t experienced moments of doubt about the road ahead? It’s how you act during those moments, what you do with the doubt that defines your next step. Rather than don doubt as a noose, hang it out to dry at a safe distance where it can no longer harm you. Doubt isn’t always a bad thing—it offers an opportunity to contemplate, a moment of introspection to think “how can I do this differently”. Notice I didn’t say better, because one person’s better is another person’s worse.

I’ve rambled on, and must admit I feel awful for leading you this far without sharing a recipe. It’s been busy around here—you probably noticed In Jennie’s Kitchen looks a little different. It’s still a work in progress, and there’s some organizing to do in terms of categories for all my posts from the last four years. As for this very moment, two hungry little girls are at swimming class, and expect a pizza and movie night upon their arrival in an hour. So I must get going—the dough is rising, and the oven needs preheating. I’ll be back soon to share the recipe for that roasted red pepper salad you see above—because tomorrow is something I’m counting on right now.

Music Pairing: Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall, Simon & Garfunkel


  • April

    Jennie, forgive me if this is overstepping (hi internet stranger), but I have found a lot of wisdom and inspiration in reading about Buddhism, especially the notion of impermanence. Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga is great. The main message I got from it is learning how to ride the wave that is life (in a really cliche summary) – I hope that you find the hope you’re looking for.

  • Rosemary Flannery

    This is a beautifully written piece. I am also loving the new look of your blog. It has really come together since we looked over the designer’s ideas last spring.


  • Arcane

    Mostly I want to make some polenta and sausage for you and your girls…. some good sauce, a bit of gelato for the little ones and a good glass of red for you. The only way out is through, huh? It helps to have friends and food to ease the passing,
    Thanks for letting us in (even if we’re seemingly strangers).

  • chris

    Jennie, your writing is so beautiful. I just wanted to drop by and say hi. No need for a recipe, but I do look forward to seeing your roasted red pepper salad. hugs to you & your girls

  • Maria in NJ

    I agree, you know in life I really think we only have one thing and that is hope.

    Your writing is truly a gift Jennie…

    that pepper salad and eggs looks wonderful 🙂

  • Wanda

    Jennie, my tomorrow’s are always greatly expected. My battle with Cancer has note ended yet, and to be honest, I don’t even think it ever ends. In my mind there always a dream, a fear, and a loneliness that I’m so tired off. Jennie, my heart is filled with dreams and to do lists that for some reason mist if the times seems to be pushed aside. I do make Tim’s to help others around me, maybe because it gives me a feeling that I’m very needed. Hope this makes sense to you & thanks for opening your heart to us!

  • Kim

    I don’t cook. I just come here to see how you’re doing and follow your journey. You are in my prayers very often.

  • Tracey Alvernaz

    It is true, life is but a mere thread, possibly breaking right before your eyes, sometimes with the slightest of tension.Yes, we need to live EACH day to the fullest and that is why we need death to wake us up.Hopefully love is being conjured up and passed on, as we need to share OUR love with others who may be struggling too. Don’t miss the opportunity to become somone eles’s “shining star” albeit a one time deal. Pain and suffering goes on every minute and you and I are not the only ones to feel the loss of a spouse. Your book is your shining star and I can relate to the “please don’t take this away yet” feeling. We can only hope that we will be around for many more healthy and productive years, God willing. Go be someones “shining star”. You have a lot to offer.
    Can’t wait to order your book.
    Hugs, rainbows and love,

  • Rose D'Angelo Frenchtown, NJ

    I read this entire piece with a lump in my throat…You and your girls are forever in my prayers.

  • JulieD

    Gosh, Jennie. I cannot even imagine. Huge hugs to you. Not sure if that means anything but wanted to send you positive thoughts. I love the new look for In Jennie’s Kitchen. It’s just beautiful and so comforting. One thing I noticed, it took a little bit to load and I noticed the image at the top of this post is over 1 mb. That’s probably why it takes a little bit to load, you want to make sure your image is 200 kb and below. Hope that helps! xo

  • Diane

    I love that you said you ” Continue to Continue”
    I mean I think that’s half the battle right we have to “Continue” to” forge ahead “and see what else This Crazy thing called Life has to offer!
    Life can be a real Bitch and then we die..
    I live by the thought of we have to “Go out and make it a good day ”
    No matter what we deal with in life our minutes are only what we make of them so I love to “Go out and make mine Good ” or at least the best I can make them for that minute of time in my life.
    Keep your Heart Open.

  • Cindy

    I have come back to reread this several times. I love your wisdom.
    I am 6+ years out in my journey and continue to recreate the life I now have. There is much joy and laughter and even new love. I am healing one day at a time still and my life will forever be different. I mourn him as much as I mourn the woman I was before he died.
    Keep going, Jennie. You are doing beautifully and making progress. Those baby steps are amazing. One day you look back are realize how far you have come.

  • Jennifer Hess

    “And so, I continue to continue.” And we are so glad you do, and that you share that with us. Still hoping to raise a glass with you again sometime. xo

  • Mary in NY

    Jennie, I’m with you my mind is mush these days, I lost my mom 1 month ago. I also watched her take a last breath, I did not think I could do that. I will continue to keep you in my thoughts. By the was that salad needs to be on my plate. Keep moving forward. Mary in NY

  • Tricia

    I’m reading Luisa’s book too. Funny how reading someone’s blog regularly (like I also read yours) makes me feel like I know the blogger — so it’s lovely to be filled in on Luisa’s details. Look forward to your book.

    I love how your place settings (like above) are always so gracious. Even now, I struggle to create such grace-notes – but the first year or so after my loss, dinner for my daughter and I was usually on a paper plate sitting on the couch!

  • Jenna | The Paleo Project

    I’m really loving the new look of your blog, although it wouldn’t change me coming back or not, because I come for the writing. You really are phenomenal with words, especially struck by the line about the diamond. A friend of ours lost her husband suddenly last Friday night. It’s not your grief to bare, but still I wished so bad I could take her pain and take yours and take everyone who meets this fear with no warning. To tomorrow, and the day after that!

  • Natalie @ The Devil Wears Parsley

    “one second a body contains the essence of a person, perhaps their soul, and the next it is simply a collection of flesh and bones.”

    I check in on you from time to time to see how you’re doing. When I read that line, a flood of grief and unknowing came upon me just like it did when my father died.

    You and your girls are in my prayers. Thanks for sharing. Keep truckin’ sister.

  • tea_austen

    This is so lovely, Jennie (and your site design as well). I’m wishing you many good things to come in the days and (gasp) months ahead. You will make it for yourself and your girls, of that I have no doubt. And it will be beautiful.

  • Sini

    I’ve been a reader of your blog for two years now but I think this is the first time I comment. I just wanted to thank you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and thank you for your incredible honesty. To me you are an incredibly strong woman and mom whom I look up to. Your posts move me to tears every single time. Stay strong.