I’ve never been a particularly accomplished cook, but over the years, I learned enough to make a decent meal or two. As a teacher, I always arrived home in time to make dinner for my family, so usually this task fell to me.
Unless it was summer. Because once the warm days arrived, it was time for grilling. And I was definitely not in charge of grilling. That was Shawn’s job.
He loved it. When we moved into our current house almost a decade ago, he bought a grill that was way outside of our budget. When I admonished him for it, he said, “Marjorie, we will use this grill forever. We need to invest in it!”
For almost a year and a half, that grill has sat unused in our backyard. I pulled it out for the 90s party, and I think a few of Shawn’s friends tried to use it last summer. But that’s about it. I just figured it would be one of those things I’d get rid of eventually. I didn’t even know how to turn it on.
I’m not sure why I never learned how to grill, but I think I liked not knowing, in a way. It meant that whenever it was summer, Shawn was in charge of the food. It meant that every party we had, Shawn had to prep the food and clean up the grill afterwards. It was his domain, and I liked it that way.
Every time I’d look at the grill over the past 18 months, it was like a wall went up. Grilling was impossible, I told myself. I couldn’t figure it out, even if I tried.
That was silly, of course, and I knew it. I knew it wasn’t really about learning to light the grill. But the mental block remained.
This summer, however, things seem to have shifted a bit. I am not “better” – and I may never be – but I have felt more happiness over the past few months than I have in years. For some reason, this has made the grill seem less intimidating. Go figure.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, I made a goal: I was going to learn how to grill.
In preparation, I watched a few YouTube videos and then tried to light the grill. When I turned on the gas, I could hear a loud hissing sound, and though I know little about grills, I was pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to happen. I texted a group of my friends for help, and my friend Katy immediately called me. We spoke via FaceTime, and I showed her the issue.
“No, that’s definitely not supposed to happen,” she said. “I think the hose is broken.”
Of course the hose was broken. Like everything else, it seemed. A few months prior, I’d finally gone out to the back garage to go through some of Shawn’s old tools, and found black mold everywhere. Without his watchful eye, it seemed like everything in his domain was crumbling.
I ordered the new hose part, and decided to start learning how to grill at our pool grill. At least there I’d be surrounded by other people who could coach me.
It was a good move – people, mostly strangers, showed me how to turn on the grill there, and recommended cooking temperatures and times. I started with hot dogs, because you can’t screw them up, and I chatted with the other parents at the grill. Usually, it was just men. I think they thought it was interesting that a woman was at the grill, but no one ever really asked me about it.
One day, however, a woman was watching her husband cook, and we got to chatting. She was impressed that I was the one handling the grilling. “It’s my summer goal,” I told her.
“That’s great!” she said. “Was there any specific reason that you made it your goal?”
I paused. “My husband always did the grilling,” I said. “But he died a year and a half ago. I didn’t even know how to turn on a grill, so I’m trying to learn this summer.”
“That’s a great goal,” she said. She wasn’t put off by my bluntness. Maybe, I thought, had been so long since Shawn died that it wasn’t as shocking to people anymore? In any case, we ended up chatting some more while I grilled. That day, I burned everything a little bit. But that was all part of the learning process, I figured. I just scraped off the burnt parts and fed the meat to my kids. (This must be some sort of metaphor for my life, I thought.)
A few days later, the part eventually arrived for my grill. I took out the directions to install it, and found that it was pages and pages long. It took at least 30 minutes for me to gather all of the tools and pieces I needed, and then I had a frustrating time trying to get the broken hose out of the grill so that I could install the new one.
I called Katy. She didn’t answer. I almost gave up.
I swore at the grill. “Listen, you motherfucker,” I hissed, “I am going to fix this today.”
I found another wrench and used two of them to try and loosen one of the connections. Claire wandered outside while I was doing it. “Should I take a picture for your blog?” she asked. “This seems like the sort of thing you would want to write about.”
I laughed, and said that yes, that was a great idea. She started taking photos and I stopped swearing. “You can do it, mom!” she said a number of times.
Finally, I got everything loosened and re-attached the hose and regulator. There was some sort of crazy test that involved getting soap and water and seeing if turning on the gas made bubbles form, and though it seemed like something that was unneeded, I did it anyway. No need to blow up the house by accident.
Once everything was cleared, I turned on the grill. “YES! YES! YES!” I yelled as the grill sparked and then began to heat up.
“You did it, mom!” Claire said. She laughed as I jumped up and down with glee.
We had hamburgers that night. They were from a pack of 50 frozen pre-made patties, and I only had ketchup as a condiment.
But this time, I managed not to burn them. And that seems to be quite the metaphor for my life these days.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.
Debra Pope Johnson
Congratulations Sometimes we exaggerate the small tasks in our grief.
Yep. And yet, they aren’t small. I mean, of course, grilling isn’t as hard as figuring out how to financially afford my life, but in some ways, it took longer to tackle because I didn’t HAVE to do it right away. It’s these small things that can remain sticky, and hard to conquer, mostly because we aren’t pushed to do them right away.
Grilling used to be my ex-husband’s job. We’ve been divorced for almost 5 years and I just bought my VERY OWN grill 2 weeks ago! Thankfully it came assembled (that would have definitely been too much for me to handle.) But I had a similar sense of accomplishment on finally learning how to grill on my own. (Hamburgers here for our first meal.) I also had to laugh at your “listen, you motherfucker…” I may have said that a time or two myself (oh, ok…more like 20) over the last several years when having to rely on no one but myself to fix various things around the house. Different circumstances, obviously, but I can certainly relate to adjusting to a new way of living my life — and finding there are SO MANY things I’m able to do that I never thought possible. From here, it sounds like you’re doing an amazing job.
That’s awesome! And yes, even with different circumstances, things like learning to grill (or mow the lawn or do the finances, etc.) can seem insurmountable. Thanks for the love!
Hi, I have just started following your blog. Mu husband passed away 4.5 years ago, from brain cancer. So much of what you’ve written, I’ve felt and experienced. I too now grill, which is also something I did not do before. My late husband, Fernando, did that for us as well. Anyway, you also mentioned so many things breaking around the house, it’s true, theres always something to fix. Youtube videos are great. Thanks for sharing your stories.
Oh, yes, I now think that I should have had a blog post category entitled “house!” I honestly didn’t realize how much work my husband did to keep the house from falling down, especially now that I have to do it all. I’m glad you found something in my blog – thanks for reading!
Rachel De Haven
Your post inspired me to tackle my broken dishwasher- and it’s fixed! So proud over here, haha, even if there was a lot of cursing and some tearful moments at the fact that I was doing it alone. Thank you!
Oh my gosh, this is the BEST COMMENT I’ve gotten on the blog! It made me feel like I truly inspired someone. Yay for a fixed dishwasher!!!
I’m only three months out from my husband death and I haven’t grilled all summer. I had a gathering for Fourth of July and I had a friend of ours grill the whole time. That was my husbands domain, the grill. I would prepare the meat, veggies and potatoes and he would throw them on the grill, and cook to perfection. The igniter broke, of course, I’m hopeful I will fix it before the end of the year. Side note: I’m currently downstairs trying to sleep on the couch (4:30am) because a smoke detector I can’t reach is chirping! Thankfully my kids are at my parents house otherwise we’d all be awake for no reason! This is the second time in three months that this particular smoke detector has needed new batteries!
Thank you for you posts Marjorie. I cannot express how many times I’ve sent links from your website to friends in order to help them understand what I’m going through.
Wow – that means a lot to me that you’ve forwarded my posts. Thank you so much for that. I will say this – I didn’t try and tackle much of anything for the first 6 months after Shawn’s death. I just survived. After that I could do a bit more, but it wasn’t until this summer (after about 18 months) that I started doing things like grilling. Hang in there. Sending hugs.
You both may have inspired me to tackle my dishwasher — and maybe grill! All of it can be overwhelming — we’re doing two peoples’ jobs, even as we’ve been assigned a new project of dealing with reordering everything in our lives, on top of grieving. Every little thing is a challenge I didn’t want but a victory when overcome.
Yes – this is so true. I think we have to go easy on ourselves (so what if the grill is unused for multiple years??) and also celebrate the victories.
It’s funny, because this post (more than most others) has really spoken to young widows. What is it with the grill? I don’t know, but all this stuff….it can seem quite overwhelming.
I relate so much to your blog, but this hits home. My husband passed 2 years ago. For his first fathers day the year before he pasted I bought him this huge grill (gas/charcoal). It was a Fathers Day/Birthday gift. I have yet to use it, but its on my “to Do” list. I’m determined to learn.
I think it’s one of those things that seems super intimidating until you actually do it and realize it’s not so different from cooking on a stovetop. Takes some getting used to (and a few burned hot dogs!) but now I can grill just as easily as I can cook inside. But yes – it’s so hard to get started!
I think we’ve all been conditioned by television ads, Father’s Day promotions, etc., into thinking grilling outdoors is strictly a “guy thing.” But really, we don’t need a Y chromosome to be able to do stuff like this. If widowers can learn how to French braid their daughters’ hair, we can learn how to fire up the grill. You go, girls! I’m proud of you. 🙂
Yes – exactly! What I’ve come to find out is that it’s really not so different from any other sort of cooking. You’re right – it’s the conditioning that makes us think so.
This is so funny because I, too, bought a grill this summer, put it together and was determined to figure out how to use it. It’s a very proud moment when I can do it all! Meanwhile, that same determination led me to take apart MY kitchen aid mixer to find out what “that noise” was. Now, it doesn’t work at all – and that was MY domain. Ugh!
Haha! Well, I guess we can’t win them all. But good for you!