In Making Toast, Time magazine essayist Roger Rosenblatt recalls his family's struggle to heal itself after losing the woman at its center.
When your daughter Amy died suddenly of an asymptomatic heart condition, you and your wife, Ginny, moved in with your son-in-law to help raise their three young children. Who benefits most from that arrangement, the kids or the grandparents?
When you reach a certain age—we're in our 60s—life becomes awfully self-indulgent. Now, helping with the grandchildren, we have made our lives useful, and that matters when you feel as if most of what you have done is in the past. Our friends said, “You changed your whole life?” To which our response is, we assumed a life: I don't know what we would have done had we simply returned to our home and stared at each other. The grandchildren benefit, too. Parenting comes back to you—the only thing I can't do is run as fast as my grandson Bubbies.
How does making toast hold a family together?
The morning after Amy's death, I got up early and made breakfast for the children, just to establish some normality and continuity. Since I'm generally inept at everything, the only thing I could do is make toast, so every morning I made toast. Children love patterns; everything that's traditional—and also good—is very valuable to them. A minister friend drew the reference to the bread of life, but it was not symbolic to me: it was the simple act of making sure their day started with something familiar and desirable.
What's changed about the culture of child-rearing since your first time around with your own children?
One thing is this overwhelming desire to fill every second of the child's day with an activity, which takes away their dreaming time. I'm very happy during those rare moments when I see the kids in a contemplative mood by themselves. When I'm reading to my grandson Sammy, who is a dreamy character, I try to stop between paragraphs just to think about what we've read and watch him think about it. That's a very nice moment, because you see him lost in a thought, taking whatever he's reading and incorporating it into his little life.
What did you learn about Amy, after she died, that you hadn't realized when she was alive?
Her stature, really. She was a pediatrician, not a famous person, but she was extremely important to her patients, her colleagues, and her friends. When she died, all of these people gathered to let me know that. She showed me how important an earnest life is.