The truth is that it’s just a kitchen table, a piece of furniture that I walked past a thousand times a day and paid no mind to unless it was dusted with crumbs or stained with something sticky and un-nameable. It’s not something to miss. Because…well…in this life there are bigger losses to grieve, harder absences to survive.
A few weeks before I gave the table away, I had decided that this table wasn’t right for the new house, the new home, that I was building with my two children in this life we were patching together after the loss of their father, my husband. In a swift, almost callous, decorating decision, I determined that the table wasn’t the color and style and look that I wanted for the new house. That new house was a place that called for lighter furniture and calmer lines, a place that I hoped would be free of static and sensory overload, where we (my now family of three) could finally take a deep breath, because I have to believe that places like that still exist for us.
A friend of mine came to pick up the table that sat in my kitchen for the better part of a decade. After she left, the space where the table had been stood empty. The space seemed so much bigger than it had just that morning.
Later, that same friend sent me a picture of the table in her home, arranged with a tablecloth and flowers. The table looked beautiful in her dining room, as if it was always meant to fit in her home.
I didn’t regret giving her the table—I was happy that she had it. And yet, in the hours after she left, I missed the table with a hollow ache that, in my life as a young widow, is too common.
Because we (my then family of four) had built a life around that table. We had picked out that table when we moved into the house that I was now moving out of. I remember my husband running his hands over the weathered wood, the purposeful imperfections carved into the oak, and announcing it would be perfect for us in the house I’d told him would be our forever home. And it was.
Because we’d made a thousand memories around that table. I remember the kids sitting at the table, first in high chairs, then in booster seats, then graduating to sitting on their knees on chairs that seemed too big for their little bodies. I remember my husband coming home every night, sitting in the second chair on the left and watching Pardon The Interruption on ESPN with the remote in his hand. I remember holiday dinners with family squeezed around the table because no one wanted to split into two tables. I remember sitting across from countless friends, sipping a glass of wine as the kids screamed and laughed and built friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.
Because we’d fallen apart at that table. I remember my husband’s second seizure as he sat at that table, and my children’s terrified faces as they looked at me for answers I didn’t have, for security I wasn’t sure I could give. I remember furiously wiping down that table waiting for a doctor to call me back because I didn’t know what else to do with my hands. I remember sitting at the table, covered as it was with platters of food sent by any of the six hundred people who came to my husband’s funeral, and just needing to rest, just for a moment.
As the memories skittered through my thoughts, it was easy to believe maybe that table wasn’t just a kitchen table. Maybe it was the steady and sturdy presence we’d needed when nothing was steady or sturdy. Maybe I’d just given away the heart of our home—the home we lost with the life we lost with the man we lost.
Or maybe sometimes the only way to grieve the big losses that are too hard to grieve because they are too wide, too intangible and impossible to wrap into something manageable, is to grieve the things you can see and hold and touch. And it’s okay to grieve the loss of a kitchen table, maybe even necessary.
The truth I’m reminding myself of is that though a kitchen table is the heart of a home, hearts and homes are more than kitchen tables, more than lacquered wood with purposeful imperfections. The hearts of homes are memories, and those memories didn’t leave with the table.
Those memories, the good and the bad and the heartbreaking, get to come with me…to the new house and wherever else I choose to go. Those memories will find their way to exist beside new memories in a new house, with a new kitchen table that will also one day be covered by crumbs and surrounded by laughter.
Because it’s just a kitchen table, and now, an empty space where a kitchen table once stood, and there are bigger losses to grieve.