Grief is Funny That Way

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Pete, the Bread Man

Pete, my dad, the Bread Man

My family, and in particular my dad, has had bizarre and delightful ways of dealing with grief. After Grandma Toscano died, my dad visited her grave almost every day. He never left flowers though. He dumped doughnuts.

The Bread Man

My dad was known as The Bread Man. He routinely drove 40 miles to a discount bread warehouse, and for a pittance bought stacks of day-old bread, Entenmann’s donuts, and cookies. In addition to feeding the local wildlife population (and no doubt raising their cholesterol levels to dangerous heights) he handed out the not-quite-gone-off baked goods to family, friends, and random strangers. Literally at gas stations he would just go up to someone with bread.

He regularly stuffed the entire trunk and back seat of his car with enough gluten products to paralyze Northern Europe.  Through the years he kept a mental note of everyone’s favorites. He always saved me a dozen or more packs of the Thomas’ special edition Christmas English muffins with cranberries. That I received these for my birthday in February was also part of the charm.

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Responding to Grief with Bread

With the loss of his mother he responded with baked goods. He stood over her grave and ripped opened package after package of potato bread, Entenmann’s mixed donuts, and english muffins. The parish priest complained about the many animals that congregated around the grave making a mess.

IMG_4606My dad in his Bronx accent countered, “I know but they keep mom company. Then the deers they leave their droppings, and it’s like they make for her little beads of the rosary.”

The priest never did win that fight and always walked away with an armful of baked goods with expiry dates that extended back beyond the previous season in the church calendar.

Taking Mom for a Ride

After my mom died in 2006, my dad started a new grief tradition. Mom wasn’t buried but instead requested she be cremated. About six months after she died, my dad called me and said, “Yeah, your mother and I went for a ride and did some shopping in Honesdale.” I thought the man had lost his mind.

I called my sister Maria, who lived near him. “What’s going on with dad? He said he took mom for a ride?!?” Maria chuckled, “Her ashes. He puts the box of her ashes in the passenger seat and then hangs her denim jacket next to it and takes her for a ride.”

My Mom

My Mom, Anita Toscano

It was so weird and sweet and so much my dad, I smiled and felt all soft and squishy inside.

Pete’s Funeral–Bread for Everyone!

My dad died in 2012 from the same type of lung cancer my mom had. Those two–they shared everything. As mourners left the church, my sisters and I stood at the bottom of the church steps with my dad’s car brimming with baked goods as we gave everyone some of Pete’s bread. While a few relatives from a distance looked on totally confused, most people laughed and said, “Pete would have loved this.” My dad was buried along with my mom’s ashes.

Today would have been my mom’s 80th birthday. My sisters and I sometimes throw a birthday party for her since she died. But we are far apart from each other today. I’m tempted to run out and buy a cake and share it with my husband and our housemate and his daughter who is visiting.

Tender and Strange Reminders of the People we lost

These weird and tender reminders of people we love and have lost mean so much to me. Even writing this I feel my mom near me, feel her soft skin from when she kissed me good-bye,  and I hear her distinctive voice that I can channel on the phone sometimes for my sisters and say much like she did, “Hello Cookie.”

My good friend Jane Brazell surprised me with an unexpected treat this morning. She had no clue that I was feeling the pain and sorrow of losing my mom and the joy from loads of memories bubbling. But she posted something weird and wonderful about how one family in Italy celebrated their father at his funeral.

I sat pouring coffee out of my Bialetti coffee pot as I read the following photos and story Jane posted on my Facebook Wall

In this photo made available Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, father Pietro Segato, the parish priest of Casale Corte Cerro, stands in front of a Moka pot containing the ashes of Renato Bialetti, during his burial service in the cemetery of Omegna, Northern Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. Renato Bialetti had expressed his wish to be cremated and then buried in the Moka his father Alfonso invented in 1933. Although he was not the inventor, Renato was responsible for the extensive marketing campaign that made the Moka an icon of Italian design, exposed in museums such as the Museum Of Modern Art and many others all over the world. (AP Photo/Elisa Sola)

In this photo made available Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, father Pietro Segato, the parish priest of Casale Corte Cerro, stands in front of a Moka pot containing the ashes of Renato Bialetti, during his burial service in the cemetery of Omegna, Northern Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. Renato Bialetti had expressed his wish to be cremated and then buried in the Moka his father Alfonso invented in 1933. Although he was not the inventor, Renato was responsible for the extensive marketing campaign that made the Moka an icon of Italian design, exposed in museums such as the Museum Of Modern Art and many others all over the world. (AP Photo/Elisa Sola)

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This post has 10 Comments

  1. Lou Ann Pleva on February 22, 2016 at 11:14 am Reply

    Aw, Peterson, my friend. Hugs and muffins and cookies and hugs. Knowing this about your folks reinforces the old adage that apples really don’t fall far from trees. Your kindness, generosity, whimsy and spiritual realness are a fine inheritance from these two entirely lovely people. I’ll never see animal droppings the same. These bittersweet days are meant to be shared and I’m so touched that you did with us. Your folks are proud of you and so am I. May you be blessed now and always.

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on February 22, 2016 at 3:13 pm Reply

      Thank you Lou Ann, what a sweet tender message. How lovely to be reminded with all this good fruit comes from. Whimsy is right!

  2. David Eichelberger on February 22, 2016 at 11:22 am Reply

    Sending love. Thank you for this beautiful tribute to your parents. My dad was a day old bread man too.

  3. Melissa Rycroft on February 22, 2016 at 12:06 pm Reply

    Peterson,
    This is just lovely! Sounds like your father had lots of personality!
    Melissa

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on February 22, 2016 at 3:14 pm Reply

      He was loaded with personality. at our wedding I was both hopeful and terrified that he might speak.

  4. Sandy on February 22, 2016 at 4:16 pm Reply

    Love this. A real feeling of understanding and love, and a few tears.

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on February 22, 2016 at 4:20 pm Reply

      Hey thanks. Yeah, I had a few tears writing it this morning, but good tears.

  5. Kristi on February 22, 2016 at 5:59 pm Reply

    My parents died 4 weeks apart, a year and a half ago. At Mom’s funeral I handed out her pretty handkerchiefs and Dad’s farmer bandanas to those gathered in the ‘family room, freshly washed and pressed, of course’. Mom and Dad were masters of Reduce/Reuse/Recycle, and making do with what you have. I loved your story.

    • Peterson Toscano
      Peterson Toscano on February 23, 2016 at 11:45 am Reply

      Kristi, I love that story. Thanks. I love when we can personalize death and mourning. So often just like our food, it can be all pre–packaged and commercial. But dying and mourning is a part of life. I think it should come with the personalities of those lost and those remembering. Thank you for the comment.

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