Finding Grace in a Grilled Ham & Cheese

“But when from a long distant past, nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remained poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering , in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”   excerpt from Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust.

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If you asked me, I would drop everything this very moment and make you a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

I would make it with the bread, ham and cheese you like.

I would slice it in half and serve it to you on my finest china with a grateful heart. Maybe with a gherkin on the side.

Then I might exorcise my guilt.

Then again, I am not sure that anything will take this guilt away.

I don’t eat grilled ham and cheese sandwiches anymore.

They were a childhood favorite. The epitome of comfort food with tomato soup.

I swore off of them one cold, sad January night.

Call it silly. I just can’t stand the sight or smell of them anymore.

Proust was right about smells…the aroma of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich hurtles me into a pit of shame and regret.

My husband was dying. He was bedridden for the most part and unable to cook for himself. Not that it mattered.

He had lost his appetite for almost all foods except for a few. He loved strawberry smoothies, canned peaches in heavy syrup and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.

As his wife, best friend and now caretaker, I divided my time between work and taking care of him.

We had a team of friends and professionals who came to our home daily. Nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, priests, friends and neighbors.

I never locked the front door. It was easier for everyone to come and go as necessary.

Also, as my husband slept on the second floor he was concerned about being trapped in a fire.

Everyday I left for work at my job a few blocks away. I had a professional position. So, I wore a suit.

Everyday I came home to make his lunch.

His standing order was a grilled ham and cheese sandwich cooked in butter in the black cast iron skillet.

After a few weeks,  I began to make the grilled ham and cheese in the toaster oven with a dab of butter on top.

I saved time.  It was less messy…no chance of grease spots on my suit. No heavy iron skillet to clean and dry.

Who was I kidding?  I knew that there was no substitute for a buttery grilled ham and cheese.

He was so gracious but I could tell that he hated it. Yet, he insisted that it was fine.
So, that’s how I made them everyday.

I kept my suit clean and was able to return to work on time.

There was so little that I could do for him. At least I could have made him a  grilled cheese and ham sandwich everyday.

Since his death, I have relived those moments… my frantic need to get everything done, help my husband beat cancer, bring home a paycheck, be there for our sons, take care of the house and the dog.

Someone once told me that a little guilt can be a good thing as it can push us to do the right thing even if we don’t want to do so.

I wanted to do the right thing for my husband and I did in many ways during his three-year illness.

He would insist that I did everything. I was exemplary.

Still, I ask myself why was I so busy that I could not make a proper grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

I am not so busy now.

78 thoughts on “Finding Grace in a Grilled Ham & Cheese

  1. You have written a heart- touching post. Self forgiveness is difficult…I really struggle with it. I know this to be true: during the time before your husband died, you did the best you could! Please believe that. My dear friend and brother- in- law died from als. His wife at first went through the I ” have to be super woman” and do everything perfect. This of course, is not possible. I have experienced the death of my parents and two brothers.
    Each person navigates the death of a loved one in their own way.
    You are in my prayers. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rick, It is good to be heard and understood. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts with me. Writing this has been cathartic. Thank you for your prayers. It means a lot to me. Lori

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  2. Sad. We all beat ourselves up over small things we did not do for someone we loved and lost. I am writing a book about the 3 years, I was a caregiver to my brother, who died of dementia in Nov. 2015. I was always remembering small things I could have or should have done better. My brother’s word through his journey was always “Sad”. My husband almost died of meningitis 6 months after I began to care for my brother. You feel alone, you feel inadequate, you feel sorrow, when you think the job you did was not good enough Lori. God knows that we are stressed, in anguish, and God forgives us. We have to forgive ourselves. God bless you, I feel your sorrow and your pain. I apologize if any of my comments have offended you Lori. Life is tough. Peggy

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I believe that caring for someone with dementia would be doubly hard as you might feel as though you had already lost them. That single word “sad” says so much. My heart goes out to you, your brother and your husband. What a tough time you all endured. Faith, family and friends…these get us through. None of your comments offended me. Sharing our experiences and our emotions make us human and help us connect. Blessings, Lori

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Blessings to you too Lori. I cannot imagine what it is like to lose your husband. I came close to losing my husband and I know how horrible it was. God bless you and may each day get easier.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I can empathize, only it was my mother. Everybody said I did a fine job during her last years…..except for me. That was 24 years ago and I still go to that place of doubt sometimes. It’s part of my alcoholic-in-recovery personality. Nice post Lori.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope that you will go less often to that place of doubt. You were there, you cared and you tried. That’s all that matters…we are imperfect creatures trying to do a big job for those we love. Peace to you.

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  4. I didn’t hit ‘like’ because I have felt the same type of thing since my Mom passed in 1998. It doesn’t weigh me down every day, but it sure does some days. One thing I do know is that your husband enjoyed your presence for those lunches more than he cared about how the sandwich was made. Now you need to give yourself a break for being human.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Judy, I appreciate your comments. It feels as though we have been on the same journey. I am sorry to learn about your Mom. You are right…I will give myself a break for being human. Thank you and take care, Lori

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been there way too many times
    It’s allowing yourself peace and comfort
    At least for me
    I did it for my mother and my father
    And now it’s acceptance and forgiveness
    I understand the guilt
    I just can’t tolerated
    Anymore mental tormention
    And besides by the end neither one cut me any slack
    So much for a loving son
    As always Sheldon

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This is powerful and beautifully worded. I agree with Judy. You’re human, be gentle to yourself. You were doing a thousand things, under extreme stress. And like Judy said, he cared more that you were there, than how you made the sandwich.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are so kind to share your thoughts. You are right that he did know and care more that I was there than my other efforts. Being with someone in their suffering is a gift to them. Thank you for the gift of your wise words.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re so right about that, that being with someone when they are ill is a gift. It reminds me of when my mom spent months with my grandma, in another state. It was her presence that was important. Take care Lori 💜

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Could I have been better? Could I have done more? Three years later I still question myself. My wonderful husband would have given me 10 stars but I don’t give myself any. I think we do the best we can at the time and we are blessed that we loved and were loved in return.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. How our memories wreak havoc on our hearts and leave us gasping for breath, yet no one escapes the very human cleft that is regret. Let your love, so evident in this article that has filled my eyes with tears, remind you that it was you he loved, because you are the tender human.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I understand guilt. I think I didn’t do enough for my mother who died from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. I felt like I didn’t help enough after my aunt, who lived with me for a short time, committed suicide. We did do enough. We are human. And life goes on. You did fine. And your husband loved you. That’s all that counts!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve been ill all summer and not able to do anything much for myself. It’s amazing how grateful you become for all the love and support from family and friends. And your priorities change so much. I used to work so hard to have everything just so. But knowing someone loves you is much more important than having everything perfect. I hope this message gives you some comfort. Love is more important than perfection. Xxxx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am sorry to learn about your illness. Illness can be life changing as we focus on the essential. Your message was comforting and I thank you. I hope to read soon that you have recovered from your illness.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am glad you found some comfort in my words. I honestly feel we can only look forwards, and not back, as we can’t change the past. We are only in charge of the future. I’m feeling stronger each day. It’s a beautiful sunny day here and I’ve woken up thinking, what can I do today that doesn’t involve any bending, lifting, stretching, standing…. My head tells me I can do all these things, as normal. At least I can sit in the garden and look at the autumn colours. All the best, Lori. x

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you so much. I’m feeling better every day. Just had to spend the last five months in bed either at hospital or home. Missed all that glorious sunshine. Still, I’ve got one more operation on Monday- and hopefully will be back to my old self. x

        Liked by 2 people

      2. thank you so much. That’s much appreciated. But others need your prayers more than me. I at least have a pathway to follow, and hopefully a resolution to my problem. Sadly others don’t have a treatment plan. I see them each time I return to hospital. They are still there. I’m praying for them. x

        Liked by 2 people

  11. Having read your post, I understand why you feel guilty, but I really don’t think it’s deserved. You did a huge amount for your husband over his three-year illness and the reason you cut corners a little with the sandwich had nothing to do with selfishness. Maintaining a professional appearance and being punctual at work was part of keeping your job, which you clearly needed to do for everybody’s benefit.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Guilt is a terrible thing, and we all feel some form of guilt especially when our loved one passes on. I feel guilty everyday, in that I could have done more, maybe if I had done something differently whilst nursing my parents before they passed on. With my beloved husband, the man I will always love, just so many unsaid things…I could go on….This may be off topic, but when I read about the ham and cheese sandwich, it reminded me when we were expecting to lose our daughter of 3 years old due to illness, I threw away all recipes that she loved, as I felt if she was not going to be around to enjoy them, why should anyone else. It was just the hurt that was felt. Sorry, I have made this all about me. Lori, I love you post, and I truly feel for you and the way you feel. x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lynne, Thank you for your heartfelt response. We have shared some of the same experiences. I am honored that you shared with me the story of your parents and your little girl. Hugs, Lori

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  13. You gave him a gift. You were there. Do you really think he minded that they weren’t made the way you used to make them? YOU WERE THERE. That’s what matters. You could have asked a nurse or a home health care worker to do it for you. You didn’t “pass the buck.” You didn’t have to come home from work to do it…but you did.
    You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. As I said….what you did for him was a gift…and he appreciated it. Feel good that you were there for him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right. He did appreciate all the things I did. This is the first time I have shared this story. It has been very healing to write and to read the responses. Thank you for taking the time to read and share your comments.

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  14. Beautifully expressed post. Indeed LOVE is the eternally lasting memory. You gave him the gift that nothing else can replace or change. (my Mum’s diabetic little sister asked her for an apple. It was forbidden so Mum said no.) Years later my mother looked at apples and remembered the death of the child with regret. LOVE through the years made apples the trigger to so much she then gave to others. Dear Lori Like my Mum May you also continue to inspire and encourage others on their journey by the beauty and remembrance of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. LOVE is stronger than it ALL.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your Mum’s little sister’s apple story. I am sure that was hard for her to see apples. Grief is triggered by love & loss. Thank you for your kind words. I hope my story does console others on their journey. Hugs, Loti

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you for sharing this beautifully written post. I have a similar memory, only it was my mother who was dying of breast and bone cancer. In some strange way, I thought I was the only one who had a guilty regret. I think in the end the greater love we showed by our actual presence of being there trumps anything else. Sending a heartfelt hug your way.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree that being present was the most loving thing to do for my husband. I can only imagine the things he thought about as he lay in his sickbed. Thank you for your warm & caring response. Hugs, Lori

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  16. Perhaps the guilt is there for a reason – as long as we are still hurting in some way, we keep a hold on the person we lost, we keep the memory more alive. The actual reason for your guilt is insignificant, so maybe the feeling is necessary at the moment – focusing on a relatively silly thing makes the rest more bearable… All I know is everyone who’s lost someone close to them feels guilty about something. Hugs 🌹

    Liked by 2 people

  17. What a beautiful, raw and heartfelt post, Lori. Thank you for sharing it. It’s amazing how everyday things, a meal, a song or a scent, can have such a powerful effect on us. Some guilt is natural in your situation, as is some frustration and impatience when caring for a loved one. But you did your best, and your husband knew it. I’m sure he appreciated it all. Sending hugs and prayers your way. Caring for a loved one is the toughest job in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. My heart aches for you. It’s a very touching true story. And one that I can relate to that’s why my heart aches. In 2012, I tried to do the best I could for both my ailing parents. Still, I ask to this day it I really did. Maybe it’s really that Angry stage of the grief. There is no deadline or proper schedule for each stage of grief–it could be for months or a year, it could even take a lifetime. It is important that we do acknowledge the anger and learn to forgive the “sinner(s)” (either yourself or others) little by little…

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Reblogged this on The End Justifies the Journey and commented:
    I had been waiting since last week to reblog this and I think this is the right time. We all can relate to this. I personally feel that it is the primary caregivers in the family (like I was) and those who can’t go home to be with their ailing loved ones (like my sister was) who feel the regrets the most.

    This was what I had to say, though:

    “In 2012, I tried to do the best I could for both my ailing parents. Still, I ask to this day if I really did. Maybe it’s really that Angry stage of the grief. There is no deadline or proper schedule for each stage of grief–it could be for months or a year, it could even take a lifetime. It is important that we do acknowledge the anger and learn to forgive the “sinner(s)” (either yourself or others) little by little…”

    If you at that stage right now, don’t be too hard especially on yourself. We must always remember that we are not God and that there are things that our mortal powers cannot any more handle.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Lori, this is a heart wrenching story. I can’t tell you how to feel. That’s your territory as my feelings belong to me. Regret can be a very deep pool and if we are not careful, we will drown. From what you’ve written, it seems to me that your biggest sadness is that your husband is no longer by your side, though I believe he is with you in spirit every day. You think it was the sandwich that he appreciated more than anything else. I think it might have been that you came home to him every day at lunchtime. You feel guilty for being human. I bet it was your human quality of compassion that your husband loved so much. Sending you sweet dreams.

    Liked by 1 person

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