I am writing on a small kitchen table in the hermitage, my grandmother Signe’s table. It is a narrow table covered with tin where she kneaded and rolled her bread and prepared food for her family. I was raised on that same family farm, the farm my dad lived for 75 years. I did not know my grandmother; she died before I was born. All I have are stories and her rich legacy accompanied by a few cherished pieces of her material possessions, one of them being this simple table.
My grandmother Signe was an immigrant from Sweden in the early 20th century. Her first husband died in an accident, leaving her a young widow. Relatively new to America, she had a good measure of loss in her early life. Another state away, on that farm I spoke of was a man, my grandfather, who was recently widowed with two very young boys, my dad as an infant and my uncle as a toddler of three years. He too was an immigrant from Sweden. I do not know the mechanism that connected the two, but Signe married my grandfather Gust and moved to the farm. She raised the two boys as her own.
I have listened to the stories of Signe. She was strong, yet tender and loving. She loved her boys dearly and encouraged them to excel in their education. She loved the Lord and was a devout Christian. My dad recalled her playing the pump organ and singing in Swedish. She did fancy needlework and I have a piece of her hardanger, a Scandinavian needlework that involves needlework and cutting. My mother speaks fondly of Signe as a gentle and kindhearted woman. When I sit at this table, I can almost feel the smooth texture of the dough as she kneads the bread.
I have been reflecting on loss, a kind of loss that is difficult to define. Pauline Boss entitles it as Ambiguous Loss (1999). I did not discover my ambiguous loss until I read her book and considered my ancestors and the loss that has been carried. We all carry stories of loss; it is integrally wound with joy and life. These days being sheltered in place during the pandemic offer me some quiet and reflection. In that reflection I consider the losses that I knew even as a very young child. I heard the stories of my grandfather leaving his home and emigrating to America at the age of 19. He was all alone. He never spoke or saw his father again. His mother had died when he was a teenager.
My grandfather, Gust settled in Minnesota near Taylors Falls. He met a young Swedish woman Annie, and they were married. Upon the birth of her second son, she became ill and died of a heart defect. My dad was less than two weeks old. My dad carried a sort of burden that his birth was directly linked to her death. I believe it haunted him sometimes. I know that every pregnancy that my mother had and all of his daughter’s pregnancies were very difficult for him. It was like a shadowed anticipation of joy that he struggled to express.
I recognize that there are numerous losses in the days and months of this pandemic. I believe the outcome of the crisis will culminate with an abundance of losses, most of them veiled as anxiety, depression, and fear. Boss (1999, p. 106) notes that the word crisis come from the Greek meaning a turning point. We will find a turning point as we navigate our losses and adaptations to life. In the interim, we might best consider and take time to name our losses. The naming of our grief and the work of our grief will aid us in perspective and finding a balance in our mental health. For today, I will sit at Grandma Signe’s table, look at images I have of her, and try to soak in her legacy of resilience, faith and nurture. I will celebrate the joys in each day. And I will name the losses and grief of these trying times.