I was alone in the hospital when our 10-month-old daughter Annalee died. My husband Fred was 2500 miles away in Boston at the bedside of his father, who had been badly burned.
Fred caught the first plane home, and friends took me to their house to wait. The house slowly filled with other friends bringing food and flowers. Mostly they brought themselves with anything they could to help me.
My good friend Chena arrived. I wanted her to sit beside me, wrap her arms around me, say something to help me make sense of Annalee’s death. Instead, she barely looked at me, barely spoke, as she passed me on her way to the kitchen. There, in silence, she set out to make a pie, chopping apples, dusting them with sugar and cinnamon, cutting butter into flour, rolling out a crust.
I remember crying, looking up as new arrivals came through the door. . . my sister from Seattle, a nurse from the hospital. I remember talking to someone on the phone, tears running down my face. Drinking tea. Holding Tina’s hand.
And then the smell of apple pie drifted through the house.
Slowly I began to notice that even though Fred wasn’t here, I was no longer alone in that totally isolated, bereft, bottomless-pit emptiness. As I looked around, I really saw the faces gathered around me. I breathed in that smell, and it was the smell of love.
And still, 26 years later, the smell of apple pie takes me back to that memory of love in the midst of my deepest sorrow.