Musings + Essays

Life Takes Root around the Perimeter.

By: Jen Shoop
"It's not so much that life has taken over, or overwritten his memory, but that I've grown around it. Life has taken root around the perimeter, softening what was once granite."

*Image via.

Elizabeth would have been 39 this past Monday. Her birthday is a personal tide staff. It falls six months to the day after my own, and represents, always, an invitation for self-measurement: “I’m going to be 39 in six months?!” and, at the same time, more somberly, “The distance between us widens.”

Earlier today, a dear friend and former colleague of mine texted me, out of the blue: “I know it’s been several months since Nate [our colleague, who died in an accident earlier this year] passed – I was thinking about him and wanted to check in to see how you are doing. Hard not to let life take over sometimes. I guess we are wired like that — and probably for good reason.”

It is true, the way time mercifully relaxes even the most strident of emotions. I think this is more a function of growing around the grief versus the grief itself shrinking. When I first heard that Nate had passed away, I was pulled over in my car in a small alcove of Bethesda, MD. As it turns out, I pass that alcove on the way to my daughter’s new school, and so I find him very much present in my everyday life. At first, crossing that intersection grabbed at my stomach. I could be having a perfectly pleasant morning and then I’d remember Nate’s untimely death and a shiver would run through me. Now, it’s not so much that life has taken over, or overwritten his memory, but that I’ve grown around it. Life has taken root around the perimeter, softening what was once granite.

There is something about Elizabeth’s birthday that is particularly intransigent, though. In many ways, age has enabled me to find her in new and beautiful manifestations. But her birthdays remain flinty. It is difficult not to tumble into the “would have been” and “should have been” thoughts on September 26th. This year, I found her on my mind, but almost as if a figure glimpsed out of the corner of my eye: blurry, immaterial, but sensed nonetheless. All day long, I felt her there, and yet I continued to put one foot in front of the other, never quite pausing to fully dwell on her. But then I was standing at the kitchen sink that night, wiping the suds off of our saucepan, and I felt a thick lump form in the back of my throat. I shifted weight. I cleared my throat. I stared for a moment out the dark square of window in front of me. Elizabeth.

I am old enough now that, for the most part, I hold these sighing sorrows quietly to myself. I finish cleaning the pot. I dry it. I turn on the dishwasher. I ready myself for bed. As I said, life takes root around the perimeter. Not, it seems, at the center.


+More on Elizabeth here and here.

+Memories of my grandfather.

+A nudge to write about your family.

Shopping Break.

+J. Crew’s new arrivals this week were pretty fabulous — these faux leather pants and this blouse are in my cart.

+Chic under $100 fleece jacket. Love the colors.

+Obsessed with the fall floral pattern on this Alemais top.

+Attractive and well-priced tablecloth and napkins for a fall tablescape.

+An adorable personalized option for a Halloween treat bag.

+Love this look from head to toe: $59 sweater, $99 skirt, and $169 western boots.

+Cute corduroy shacket to layer with.

+Swooning over this Anna Mason dress.

+Need these cheeky place cards at my next dinner party.

+Another pretty fall floral blouse.

+This bag is beyond chic.

+How adorable are these sneakers for a little one? Under $20!

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2 thoughts on “Life Takes Root around the Perimeter.

  1. So grateful to read your perspective. My ex partner of 8 years and father of my son passed away unexpectedly last week. I am currently paralyzed with grief and terrified to attempt to move forward. However, moving my life around it seems like something in time I just may be capable of accomplishing.

    1. Oh my gosh – Liz. I am so sorry for your incredible loss. I am thinking of you, and hoping you give yourself grace and space during this intense time. Please know you are not alone. I hope you can lean on a few supportive people to talk, cry, share memories, or do whatever you need to do.

      Thinking of you —


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