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The Red Velvet Cake

Originally published at Griefnet.org, November 1999 (article no longer online, but is still available via The Internet Archive Wayback Machine: The Red Velvet Cake

In Memory of Jeanne E. Jones, my mom

This was no ordinary birthday cake. We set about to make The Red Velvet Cake -- a luscious chocolate but a deep rose red, with white cream cheese icing, and one of my mom's many specialties.

Making this cake for my mom's 79th birthday, the first birthday since she died May 1st, made me feel like she was right here with us. This was the last cake my mom had made for any of us, and it held so much symbolism. Somehow I think she really knew and was touched. At the same time, she always made a fuss over us making a fuss about her.

My 81-year-old dad mailed a photocopy of the recipe with my mom's handwriting crossing out ingredient measurements and changing them to what she actually used that made her Red Velvet Cake better than any I'd ever had. I took the treasured recipe with me to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients. It truly felt like my mom was floating above me and my shopping cart as (she and) I added each of the ingredients to the cart in preparation for my daughter and me to bake this special cake.

My daughter and I laughed, talked, cried, and thoroughly enjoyed making The Red Velvet Cake. This cake symbolized the continuance of a special family tradition, the wonderful memories of my mom's fabulous cooking, and the continuing thread of love that was the very real essence of my mom.

I awakened the next morning, the day that would have been my mom's 79th birthday. Previously I had dreaded this day, concerned that I'd be a basket case. Making The Red Velvet Cake the night before, though, lightened my heavy heart and the pit in my stomach. It made a huge difference that I couldn't have anticipated. That afternoon my son and I added the final touch, the icing, before carefully transporting it to my dad's for a family dinner. It was even more special to make this cake with my daughter and son.

My children and I arrived at my dad's for the dinner honoring my mom's birthday. My dad had made one of my mom's favorite pasta casseroles for dinner, and he did a great job. Considering he didn't even know how to cook a cup of water for tea in the microwave when my mom died, he's obviously made tremendous progress in 4 short months! We made a toast to my mom, shared stories, talked, laughed, cried, and treasured our moments together as a family.

The deep, intense grief we'd all felt didn't feel so heavy that evening. I wondered if perhaps there was the beginning of a shift. At the same time, I know so well how waves of grief can be like tidal waves. As soon as I think I'm truly through the worst of the rough moments another tidal wave can hit without any forewarning. After all, it's only been four months, and we're truly only just beginning to adjust our lives to being without my mom. For the moment, though, we celebrated, we loved, we shared, we enjoyed the memories.

Only a week before this we were all on an emotional roller coaster, learning that my brother has a tumor in his head that could potentially kill him. The next specialist and surgeon feels that the tumor is caught early enough, and with 2-3 surgeries that he'll be OK, even though he'll have total loss of hearing in one ear. We'll know more once the MRI results are in, and the first surgery is tentatively set for a few short weeks from now.

My family is even more keenly aware of the importance and preciousness of each one of us, as well as how unexpectedly one of us can be here today and gone tomorrow. We treasure our time together even more and hold each other even more dear in each other's lives. Our hugs and words of love and support have even deeper meaning.

We all miss my mom. That isn't going to change. Her love and incredible kindness remain and shine within each of us.

My mom was and remains an angel in our midst.

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