Sentimental Spices and Soup Mixes

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This August marks the 4-year anniversary of my Oma’s death. It’s weird because I still feel like she’s not really gone. I have to keep reminding myself: no, really, she’s dead. Been for a while now.

Eight years ago is when we started to face that we were going to lose her for good. For four years she went on a rollercoaster of “fine” to “at Death’s door, holding the knocker aloft” while my mom spent most of her life in Vancouver instead of Powell River, sleeping in the car, on the recliner, leaving Major, the dog, with me or taking him with her and keeping him on the down-low as much as she could, just so she could take care of her apparently dying mother. Doctors did nothing, instead prescribing so many conflicting medications it’s honestly a miracle they didn’t poison Oma to death. “It’s just diabetes symptoms,” they’d say, as we spent another week getting ready for her passing. It took those four years for her to finally get a diagnosis, in the summer of 2010: leukemia.

By then, it was hospice time. Oma spent the last weeks of her life at Crossroads Hospice in Coquitlam, finally happy because she could actually ask for pain medication and receive it without being treated like a junkie. (No, really, they treat everyone looking for pain meds like junkies, even 90-something little old ladies who are obviously in so much pain they can barely walk into the doctor’s office.) Mom and Opa spent the last days with Oma — I was in Powell River holding down the fort.

When it happened I got the call a little before 8pm. I had to scramble to find a way down to Vancouver by the next day so I could see Oma’s body before they cremated it. I needed that closure, which mom understood, so she had them hold on till I got there. I had to catch a ferry to the Island, drive down to Nanaimo, spend the night on a couch at the place I’d be living come September, and then get up as early as possible the next day to catch the first ferry over to Vancouver. I was sleep deprived and empty inside. I couldn’t feel any grief. I couldn’t feel anything.

I’d been taken to this threshold so many times but never brought over till that moment. All my grieving was bottled up inside me and it felt like it could never come out — like I’d shoved the cork in so tight, so many times, that I was stuck with no release.

It still feels that way, though I am slowly releasing the grief. It comes out in little bits, every so often. That first year I would randomly cry a lot. I don’t so much anymore. I still have to search for ways to let go of her, little by little. I still am aching to find closure, pushing my shoulder against an old wooden door that sticks on the stones, creaks with every movement, giving centimeter by centimeter over more time than I want to give.

June the 6th, after spending an all-nighter on a Pinterest binge of boards dedicated to DIY, organization, and unfucking one’s habitat, I decided to finally deal with the table of spices and soup mixes and gods know what else in my kitchen. All stuff I’d brought over from Oma’s old place, where it had sat since well before she’d died. Stuff she’d bought (or mom had bought for her). Groentesoep packages — what use did I have for vegetable soup with directions all in a language I can barely decipher on a good day? Why had I kept this stuff so long? I should have thrown it out when I first moved into Oma’s old place.

Easy answer there: sentiment. I couldn’t get rid of the various packages of Knorr soup, bouillon, soup mixes bought at the Holland Shop, or expired spices because they had belonged to Oma. They were evidence that she once kept a thriving kitchen, eight years or more ago. They were evidence of my childhood spent in that kitchen, making things with her, whether actual edible food or a soup made from almond soap (I was maybe 6 okay — it smelled good).

These things were evidence of a lifetime spent at Oma’s house, eating dinner with her — they were evidence that she’d been there. And if I threw them out, I was closing the door a little bit more. Letting out some more grief. I wasn’t ready to do that.

Until twelve days ago.

I released the grief that was stuck in those soup packets and spice bottles. I’m not sure how I feel right now, but it’s better than empty.

-Katje

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