My father’s one-year death anniversary came (5/24) and went with me still deep in the trenches of estate-management. I was grateful that a friend mentioned a local workshop on the topic, “Writing Your Grief and Loss.” It seemed a perfect event for me given that the one-year anniversary had been a difficult few weeks.
I attended the workshop on June 4. The facilitator invited us to several writing exercises during the day, and one of them was: “Write about an object.” Below I share about the object that came first to my mind: Joe’s teeth.
Joe’s teeth are now in a scarf drawer in my closet, in our master suite. I saved them special from his dresser drawer when I cleaned-out his belongings this past fall. It was right around the Day of the Dead celebration that happens each year in Latino communities on the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls in early November. In these celebrations, items from the deceased loved one’s life are placed with their favorite food or drink near their photograph or skeleton art depicting what they did in their life — for Joe, this would be him with others at a poker table, with the chips piled highest in front of him (as he was a winner… a professional… of the game).
When I came across the teeth in the estate cleaning, I was a bit spooked and weirded-out, but I also smiled remembering when he got these teeth… it was many years before his death, perhaps fifteen or more… He wore them for a short while then stopped, in part because of how he looked with them. It was as if the set of teeth were bigger than his mouth; they overfilled his top and bottom lips and pushed his lips out farther than had been his normal. When he smiled with these teeth, though the teeth were perfect, his smile was not — it was false. I remember telling him he looked like a goon when he first started wearing them (I must have been a teenager or young-adult at the time). He never became comfortable wearing the teeth.
The teeth are funny to look at — but they are uniquely his, and I suppose this is why keeping them is more important to me than keeping other personal items such as his clothing. For the 2013 Day of the Dead celebration at my home-of-origin, I placed Joe’s teeth near his and my mom’s photos on the fireplace mantle, with some popcorn, a candle, and a rose. It was inspiring how this simple ritual seemed to call the spirits of my parents into our living room, where we as a small family had eaten lots of popcorn while watching movies. There was a good humor, warmth and honesty in this ritual that was a great comfort to me as I stood amidst packed and stacked estate boxes and cried good-bye tears in my family home. I moved the contents of the home days later on November 13. I sold the family home on December 13.
Joe’s teeth are a metaphor for his over-consuming during his life while not taking care of himself. The false teeth tap my own root of not-taking-care, specifically of my own teeth and gums, while I was a 24/7 dementia-caregiver (resulting in two painful gum grafts after my mom passed away in 2008). The teeth remind me to practice moderation… simplicity… and care of my personal hygiene.
Writing exercise: “Write about an object.”
From the workshop: “Writing Your Grief and Loss,” facilitated by author Ray McGinnis “Writing the Sacred,” held at Rolling Ridge Retreat and Conference Center, North Andover, MA, June 4, 2014, approximately 12 months after my father’s death (May 24, 2013).
Practice: Try expressing your grief and loss through this type of exercise. What object comes to mind? What story does it tell? Set a timer for 15 minutes and stop writing when it sounds. If you are comfortable with what you wrote, consider sharing it or about it with a friend or family member.