Yesterday, my sister sent me a text message telling me that Tomie dePaola had died. “I thought you’d want to know”, she said. Yes. And I’m touched that she told me in that exact way. It would have been easy for the death of an author to get lost amid all the other headlines right now, but my sister knew I would want to know. He was my favourite. He is my favourite.
He was 85, and he fell in the barn where he had his studio. He had surgery; there were complications, and he died. It happens, when you’re 85. That man was a gift. A joy. I continue to buy his picture books, even though I no longer have anyone to read them to. I recite Tomie DePaola’s words once a week in my house:
Bubble bubble, pasta pot.
Boil me some pasta nice and hot.
I’m hungry and it’s time to sup,
so boil me some pasta to fill me up.
I even throw the 3 kisses (Like Strega Nonna) at the pasta pot for good measure.
Ugh. I am gutted. The world is dimmer for his absence. Pasta night is dimmer for his absence.
I was going to write this last night, but I was tired and sad. Tired and sad make rants, not posts, so I waited until today to write a good tribute to Tomie and think about loss.
My best friend’s Mémère died about a year after my Uncle Jack did. They were both 97 when they died. At the visitation for both of them, I watched the slideshow of their lives playing on screens throughout the funeral parlour. My friend and I talked about how much these two saw in their lifetimes. How does one describe a life so well lived, when there was so much life well lived. Weirdly, on my way home from Mémère’s funeral, there was a segment on the CBC about a woman who, essentially, writes eulogies for you. Some people can’t find the words they need, especially when their mind is overcome with grief, and planning the funeral is taking up everything they have. They want to provide a fitting tribute to their departed loved one, but for whatever reason, the words don’t (or won’t) come. Shortly after that, there was an obituary for a woman that for some reason caught my eye. It pretty much said “She had two kids – here are some highlights of the kids’ lives”. That seemed extra tragic to me – someone summed up her life in a 1.5 by 3 inch column, and it mostly wasn’t about her. I couldn’t tell you about the newspaper obits of people I knew and loved, but this one – an obit of a stranger – has stuck with me.
I mean, I guess it’s about the impact people have had on your life. Tomie dePaola had a gift that inspired me to write. He had a gentle spirit that inspired me to be a better person. He wrote great stories about saints and religion that were sublime. He wrote stories about an Italian-Irish-Catholic childhood. You felt like he was writing the stories of your heritage as well as his own. I am truly sad at his passing.
The news is rife right now with the death tallies from C-19. There are thousands of obituaries and tributes being written right now to honour those. It feels dismissive to talk about my feelings about the loss of someone who didn’t know me, but I still felt close to. Loss is a funny thing that way. Another friend of mine, years ago, said that she felt on the periphery of a death in her family, as if her loss didn’t count as much as someone who shared a genetic makeup with the woman who had died. I comforted her as best I could, and encouraged her to not say she was “just” a relative of a relative. To me that feels dismissive of someone’s loss. Loss is the space between what you had and where you are now. So whether it’s a beloved trinket, a missed opportunity that was so close you could taste it, or someone you felt was one of your kindred, loss seems like something that people can wave away and bury down. Loss is loss, and it’s valid.
This Lent, may I choose to not belittle the losses in my life and the lives that cross my path. May I stretch into the lessons loss provides, and may I empathize with others who feel losses variously in their lives. This Lent, may I live my life in a way that reflects how I want to be remembered.
And, have some pasta for Tomie. ❤