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Living with an unbearable loss

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Sea

Moving forward into the life you create in the wake of loss

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Nuts & Chews

During Megan Carle’s three decades at Nike, she held various positions across Footwear, Apparel, Equipment and Golf. In 2016, after leaving Nike, Megan started writing and founded Carle Consulting LLC which provides strategic marketing and executive coaching to consumer products companies in need of cross functional partnership. Her writing led to a book about how she confronted corporate bullying with the unexpected tools of grief, loss and love. It is currently in the hands of a literary agent who is shopping it for publication.

When the demons get too close, I find the glossy white See’s box that glimmers distinctly in my trunk, among my high school trophies, clippings, and other memories. There she is, Mary See, prominently displayed on a 5-pound box. This one would have held “Nuts & Chews,” Grandpa Mike’s favorites that we gave him every Christmas and then proceeded to plow through without a care to our waistlines or teeth. As I pull the box out, I can still smell and taste the chocolate on my tongue.

On its lid, I’ve prominently identified the contents with a black Sharpie: “Grandpa Mike’s memories.” As I open the tattered box and read the first letter, the memories come flooding back. It’s the handwriting that gets me every time, heart to my throat. Mom’s beautiful, delicate handwriting. So many women of her generation share it, but I would know hers anywhere. I begin the familiar pilgrimage into her past, opening letters and cards, stack upon stack, to read a daughter’s loving words to her cherished “Daddy.”

She wrote her father every week—from her school days at Star of the Sea and then to college, at the University of Oregon, her first home with her new husband, a fun vacation and beyond, telling her most favorite “Daddy” of all the happenings of the life she is creating and building around her. A yellowed newspaper clipping from The Daily Astorian highlights, “Popular Newlywed Couple to Make Home in Eugene” and I read about my mom and dad’s wedding at St. Mary’s Catholic church, the reception that followed at the Astoria Golf & Country Club and that “the bride wore a gown of imported Swiss organdy that had a neckline of French Guipure lace.”

Father’s Day cards by the dozens scatter around me as I read to “the bestest Daddy ever,” always with the same theme: “It is impossible to tell you how much you mean to me. For 45 years, you have made me feel like the most special person in the world and that is the greatest gift a father can give a child. Thank you Daddy, I love you. Jackie”

As I read the letters and cards one-by-one, the memories of my own life return to me as I am introduced into her narrative, “Baby Megan…with her happy disposition.” I read of my brother, Neil’s, early academic achievements, “damn hair,” and, later, “turning 21 this May 18…enduring at the mill but think he longs for it to end,” writing of a time when my brother felt the need to take a break from college to work at a lumber mill in Molalla, Oregon, in order to make some money. In another letter, she shares more intimate news about the “good man” she married in Dave and how he is “busy fixing the roof” and “doing so well” during a particular basketball season.

She writes of our life, the smallest things. “Spent this last weekend doing some deep cleaning,” or “Quiet Sunday around here, in fact it seems like all the block is asleep…” I am transported back to a day in spring of 1983 as I read about her sharing the news of my scholarship to USC, “It is rewarding for Megan to have her scholarship recognized. I just stood there and got red faced and cried and laughed when I read the letter.”

The lump in my throat burns, yet I press on.

The letters tell me about her illness, one even detailing the medical terminology and timelines that she would never see. Mostly I can see the effects of her illness through handwriting that no longer looks like her own and words that are now jumbled, as the cancer lays claim to her brain.

As I get further through the box, the words start blurring together, as is always the case, and I find a heart shaped Valentine. The kind that is cut from a piece of heavy pink paper and, in that same iconic writing, I read: Want to be my Valentine, Dad? Love, Jackie Kay

Somehow, through location in the box or by fate, this precious keepsake has gotten its scotch taped backing stuck to the newspaper clipping that is her obituary. On second glance, it looks as if it were done intentionally by a father saying a final farewell to his one and only daughter, his favorite little letter writer, Jackie Kay.

Box emptied, I near the end of my dig as I carefully place the cards and delicate letters on yellowed paper neatly back into the box, stacking them in an order known only to me, re-reading a note here and there as I try desperately to propel myself back in time. I close my eyes and can see myself, a girl in curls, mostly covered by an Easter hat, wearing a hand-sewn yellow coat and dress, crouching beneath my apple tree, crocus peeking out of grass still brown from the cold Winter, chubby legs holding me steady as I hunt for Easter eggs. I am two years old as I hold up the pastel colored egg to my mom, who is beaming at me in her Jackie Kennedy inspired wool boucle suit.  I am seen. Both Mom and the tree above me envelope me in safety and comfort. I am loved. I haven’t a care in the world other than that delicate pastel blue Easter egg landing safely into my basket. I am complete.

When I open my eyes, I’m jolted back to the reality of my “memories in a box.” I put the lid on carefully and return it to its safe place until our next visit.

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