Despite the fact that this is the season of love, I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about grief lately. My co-worker, and good friend, recently lost his dad quite suddenly, and I know how much the shock and sadness of it all is weighing on him. As many of you know, my parents died a number of years ago after long illnesses, so while I can relate in many ways to what he is feeling, there are certain things about his experience that are very different from mine. When we lose someone who has been sick for quite a while, we are granted some time to prepare, even though when the end comes, the magnitude of it is still overwhelming. This type of loss has its own particularly tragic story. We watch the person we love slip away from us day after day, until they move beyond our reach, all while taking our own hesitant steps backward, protecting our hearts from what is to come without even realizing we are doing so. There is no question that this mutual retreat is horribly sad, but we cannot deny that there is peace in knowing that we were able to say goodbye. We find a certain level of solace in the moments that transpire just before the end. When someone is taken from us suddenly, however, we do not have the chance to compose our final words, or to provide the care and comfort that make us feel useful, or to witness that final letting go. Is one experience better than the other? I don’t think it matters. Either way, the loss pummels us like a towering giant of a wave, and when we wake up on the shore, we are alone, without the person that we loved so very much.
It’s what happens to this love that I’m interested in knowing more about. In one of my favorite Steve Carrell movies, Dan in Real Life, Dan’s daughter tells him in a moment of brilliant teenage angst, “Love is not a feeling. It’s an ability.” I think I actually agree with her. We can love fiercely, unconditionally, and completely, all while simultaneously experiencing every emotion within our range. Love is an active thing, and when we love a person, it is very much tied to the physical presence of that person. I loved my mom’s smile, her laugh, the sound of her voice. I loved my dad’s sense of humor, his strength, his driving tips. “The person coming into the circle on the right always yields. Never drive over a piece of wood.” Notice, however, my use of the past tense. In the instant when each of my parents died, my love for them became a wild and howling thing, desperately trying to find its place. This is the moment in which grief begins, and the recognition of it will continue to slam into us in the days, weeks, and months ahead, until we come to terms with the fact that although we loved this person that we’ve lost, we must now learn to love just the memory of them, and to somehow make that be enough. We are now expected to live without all the little things that made up the very essence of their being, and we must accept the fact that we will go on living our lives, changing and growing, and continuing to move on, as impossible as that may seem.
When my mother died, I wrote a eulogy about my own thoughts on how she might remain with us as more than just a memory. I wanted to comfort my children, who loved her so much, and I hope that all these years later, I may now grant some peace to my grieving friend. What if we believe that our lives begin with a single piece of thread, of one color and one texture? That thread then gets woven together with many others as we are changed by whatever life brings our way. Up close, we see only the individual strands, but if we step back, an amazing tapestry begins to take shape. Beautiful and rich in its complexity, comforting and warm in its strength, this tapestry is absolutely limitless in its ability to show us what our lives have been. We see the threads of all the people we have ever loved interwoven among our own. We see our memories, the lighter ones containing strands of bright and fragile thread, and the heavy ones glossy, dark, and strong. When we lose someone that we have loved, they are gone, but we are left with the tapestry that was their life. It is right in front of us. If we take a step forward and look at each thread, we will see its color and the way it catches the light. We can allow it to illuminate all that we cannot see. If we step back again and wrap it around us, its warmth and weight will shelter us on even the coldest night. We can turn our faces into it and wail like the children we still are, until there is no sobbing left. If we lay it in front of us, and place all that worries us right in the center, it will bear our heaviest load. With these thoughts, I came to believe that we never stand alone. We are comprised of an infinite number of threads, interwoven, interdependent, and impossible to unravel, all bound by a love that will continue to transcend even our greatest loss.
For today’s cocktail, I began by thinking of my dad first, and the way in which he loved Scotch whisky. Dewar’s was his favorite, but I chose to go with Talisker Storm because it is mine, and I thought this switch captured the idea of continuing to live, and change, and move on even though some things will always remain the same. I think I may have mentioned that I’ve become obsessed lately with using coconut simple together with smoky spirits of any kind. My mom would have loved this idea, and my dad would have said I was crazy. I added cardamom pods to the shaker and muddled them with the simple, both because they traditionally symbolize love and eloquence, and because they have an astringency that marries so well with the Talisker Storm. I chose pomegranate as the main juice for the same reason and because it is red, of course! Meyer lemon added just the right mellow citrus component, and I finished the drink with Love Potion #9 bitters from El Guapo, a lifting combination of six different florals. There are so many layers of complexity here that are beautiful up close and individually, but it is not until you step back that the cocktail suddenly becomes a unified whole. I raise a glass to your dad, Matt Kelley. I promise you that it will get better. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday. Thank you so much for reading.
Muddle the cardamom gently with the coconut simple.
Add the remaining ingredients.
Long shake, double strain into a cocktail glass.
*Talisker products are readily available at most local liquor stores.
**To make the coconut simple, I gently heat a good quality coconut water until almost boiling and then whisk in an equal amount of sugar.
***El Guapo bitters can be purchased from their website, on Amazon, or from the specialty shop Art in the Age at 116 North 3rd Street in Philadelphia.