Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Making Toast: A Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt

Making Toast: A Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt
Published February 2010 by Harper Collins Publishers
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
When Roger's daughter, Amy—a gifted doctor, mother, and wife—collapses and dies from an asymptomatic heart condition at age thirty-eight, Roger and his wife, Ginny, leave their home on the South Shore of Long Island to move in with their son-in-law, Harris, and their three young grandchildren: six-year-old Jessica, four-year-old Sammy, and one-year-old James, known as Bubbies.

Long past the years of diapers, homework, and recitals, Roger and Ginny—Boppo and Mimi to the kids—quickly reaccustom themselves to the world of small children: bedtime stories, talking toys, play-dates, nonstop questions, and nonsequential thought. Though reeling from Amy's death, they carry on, reconstructing a family, sustaining one another, and guiding three lively, alert, and tenderhearted children through the pains and confusions of grief. As he marvels at the strength of his son-in-law and the tenacity and skill of his wife, Roger attends each day to "the one household duty I have mastered"—preparing the morning toast perfectly to each child's liking.

My Thoughts:
One of my favorite books of 2013 was Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. It was not just wonderfully written, it also showed me what real grief was like, not just what the so-called experts teach us about it. I'd heard about Rosenblatt's Making Toast on NPR shortly after it was released and was intrigued. Still, just how many books about grief does one need to read. The answer is at least two.

Long past the days of diapers, car pools, and dance lessons, Roger and Ginny had to master their grandchildrens' schedules and reaccustom themselves to things about small children they'd forgotten when they moved into their daughter's home after her death. "There were playdates to arrange, birthday party invitations to respond to, school forms to fill out." The two of them had to find ways to be helpful, not step on their son-in-law's toes, and help their grandchildren deal with their loss all while trying to process their own grief.
"We begin to fit in to Amy's and Harris's house. We knew the house only as visiting family, having stayed for a few days at a time, perhaps a week. Now it is ours without belonging to us, familiar and strange."
Along the way, they were helped by an enormous group of people - their friends and family, co-workers, the parents of the children's friends, and Ligaya, Bubbies' nanny who said to them "You are not the first to go through such a thing, and you are better able to handle it than most." Which is true. A group organized enough dinners for the family to last for six months, a scholarship was set up in Amy's name with donations from friends and colleagues, a bench was dedicated in Amy's honor at the children's school.

Even so, each member of the family had to deal with their loss and grief in their own way. Ginny wanted an answer as to why Amy died; Roger felt that knowing more would only deepen his anger. Ginny did not view the open casket before the funeral; in retrospect Roger felt she may have been right. Harris kept his emotions in check, Roger remained angry for months, Ginny felt guilt about taking over her daughter's role. Along the way, Rosenblatt remains honest about his feelings and shares what he has learned from the professional their family did turn to. In teaching the family about grief, she also gave them permission to have their feelings and hope. She spoke of "three elements of death difficult to come to terms with: its universality, its inevitability, and the fact that the dead are unable to function."

Catherine Andrews, the children's psychotherapist, told Rosenblatt that "one of the delusions of people in grief is that once a year passes, things will start to look up. She reminds us of what she told Harris at the outset, that grief is a lifelong process for everyone of us...As for the demarcation of a year, "Things actually get now realizing the hard truth that this is how life will be from now on. One year is no time at all." Something to bear in mind in our own lives as we deal with our own grief and that of others.
"This is our life. Without Harris and the children to fill in, we would be sitting in Quogue, manufacturing conversations between dark silences. I know we are creating a diversion for the children as well as a differently constructed life for them. Yet we are doing the same thing for ourselves. When Amy died, Ginny and I never had to confer as to where we wanted to be. We had to ask Harris, but not each other. Now, out we to ask him again? We decide that he will tell us when he wants us to go. And until then, my original answer of "forever" [when granddaughter Jessie asked him on the first day how long they were staying, he replied "forever"] stands."


  1. This sounds like an amazing if heartbreaking read. I really like the excerpts you shared. They feel introspective without being over the top. I'll have to look for this one.

  2. In my mom's experience at having lost my dad, she found the first six weeks the easiest because everyone was there for her. And then after that, the hardest was after that first year anniversary. Everyone else has moved on and expects that you have too.

    This sounds like a worthwhile read, Lisa. I haven't read too many books about the grieving process myself. This is definitely one to keep in mind.