Musings + Essays

A Makeshift Pyre.

By: Jen Shoop

After my former colleague Nate passed away earlier this year, I reached out to several of my erstwhile team members to pass on the sad news, in case they hadn’t heard, and check in, in case they had. One of them asked if I wouldn’t mind a phone call — “My thoughts are a mess right now,” she wrote. “It might be nice to process together.” And so we did. We sat on the line with one another on opposite coasts of the country, rambling and sighing and clearing our throats and remembering. We said all the things that felt right to say, platitudes and prayers alike.

I think frequently of Nate — possibly more often than I did before he passed? (Is it OK to put that on paper?) Most days of the week, I drive by the exact intersection at which I learned the news. And last night, I laid in bed, and thought — out of the blue — about that conversation in his memory. I thought of how dignified, how human, it had been for my colleague to request that call. At the time, it had seemed a pittance. What do words do in the face of something so absurdly tragic? Now, though, that call seems like the only possible and remotely proportionate response. We were two people gathering around his memory, saying his name, forging a small and makeshift pyre.

Earlier this year, I took a train up to New York to visit with a friend who had just lost her mother. I didn’t know what I was meant to do once there — speak openly of her parent? make comfort food? divert attention? — but felt I wanted to be close at hand. Perhaps that’s most of supporting the bereaved anyhow: sitting there, on the phone, or in the living room, saying the things, or not.

I don’t know why the memory of that call stirred me so deeply last night. But it moves me, the way people bead together, concentrating at the wound.


+Memories of my grandfather.

+On grief: “life takes root around the perimeter.”

+If you need a “get up and go” message today.

+And in case you’re “in it” as a parent right now.

Shopping Break.

+Wow this dress is perfect for NYE/holiday.

+I find mercury glass pieces — votives, candle holders, jars, lamps — look much more expensive than they tend to be. I love this under-$100 lamp!

+My most recent Amazon order: pom pom knee socks for mini to wear to the Nutcracker, a new holiday book for the children, and this popular illuminating nail concealer that so many people have raved about to me. I am a dedicated manicure gal, and I go religiously, but I had gel polish on my nails for too long and they are so thin and weak! I need to give them a break and will just be applying this nail concealer for the next week or two before I do my favorite holiday reds, which are OPI’s Big Apple Red and Essie’s Really Red. I also sometimes like the orange-y reds (Kate Spade vibe) — Essie’s Geranium is really fun.

+This $30 personal safety alarm may be the most popular item I’ve ever featured?! Great gift for daughters going off to college, siblings in urban areas, runners, etc.

+ADORABLE $20 gift for a little one — perfect for a child’s friend, neighbor, cousin, etc.

+H&M has some really fun home finds ATM: glass candlesticks, ice cream Christmas ornaments, bubble vases!

+This glitzy hair clip is SO spectacular.

+This gold sequin turtleneck is just the right amount of holiday flare. Pair with jeans to tone down or dress up with a velvet midi skirt.

+These “daily routine” flash cards are such a cute way to give kids insight into what’s ahead. Would be clever when trying to navigate a transition back to school, or with a new caregiver, or on weekends.

+This three-part piggy bank (spend-save-give) is such a clever way to introduce sound financial habits to children.

+I’ve heard these napkins are great for everyday dining — a nice, thick material and such fun colors.

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4 thoughts on “A Makeshift Pyre.

  1. I completely understand the feeling of inadequacy in grief, which is something I don’t think we discuss enough within the context of loss. After services, a viewing, or a funeral, we often feel like grief should be over or at least taper, and it can be hard to continue honoring the memory of a lost loved one once those events have ended. I’m certainly no expert, but this line, “We were two people gathering around his memory, saying his name, forging a small and makeshift pyre,” is a common way to continue the process.
    When I lost a childhood friend and neighbor when we were 18, I found such comfort (and still do!) in talking about him with friends on his birthday, the anniversary of his death, or whenever we see something that reminds us of him. I even like to have a visual reminder, and have left his mass card with his photo up in every apartment I’ve ever lived in since then.
    Know that grief ebbs and flows and, like you alluded, that presence, whether with other mourners, with the lost, or with your own memory, is sometimes all we need. I agree that it is so moving to see people come together like this.

    1. I completely agree with everything you’ve written here — it tracks so well with my experience, too. I love that you honor your friend’s memory in those ways! Beautiful.


  2. What you’re describing here reminds me of the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva. The simple act of coming together just to BE in the wake of a loss is a powerful one.

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