Death, Tomatoes, and Life Again

Death, Tomatoes, and Life Again

Last week was a hard week. I had no problems navigating the Pope traffic in New York City (in fact, the roads were amazingly clear). But I did get emotional about all the brave things he was saying as he made his way through his papal visit.

Business is challenging these days, too, which makes the weeks seem longer and harder.

However, by far the worst thing that happened last week was that one of our employees died. He was killed in a car accident and leaves behind a wife and three kids, all still in school and young. Far too young to lose a parent.

I didn’t know Jon Koller well, but I certainly knew him enough to chat with him in the cafeteria and exchange smiles and hellos in the hallway. As you may know, my own father died in a car accident, so it opens up the wound again. And I’m saddened not as much for Jon, who is off on his next adventure, wherever that may be, but for his children and wife and the pain of the grieving and healing process.

Yes, it gets better over time. But it gets harder, too. The grieving returns at those moments when a father should be there for his kids—graduations, walks down the aisle, the arrival of a new grandchild, or simply during those moments when they want to call someone, share some good news, and have someone share the joy that only he knows how to share.

The day I heard about Jon, I returned home from work to an empty house (my youngest was with her father for the weekend) and felt a little lost. Not sure where to begin again, and how to pull myself together. Then I remembered the tomatoes.

As some of you may also know, I decided not to have a vegetable garden this year. I was taking a break. But lo and behold, Dan, an employee at the Rodale Institute, remembered from previous years that I like a good paste tomato to make sauce, so he gifted me one San Marzano paste tomato plant. And so I planted it. And it grew and grew and grew. It grew so big that it took over the whole space where normally I would squeeze in 10 tomato plants.

With the nights getting cooler, I knew that this was the night to make sauce. I picked every tomato I could, got the sauce going, and cooked up a bit of pasta. Then I had a dinner for one, topped with fresh-cooked sauce.

As I made the sauce, I realized that cooking restores me—grounds me. Of course it nourishes my family and me, too, but it’s the act of capturing that life, that sunshine, that fresh-from-the-garden flavor and turning it into something useful that soothes me.

After all, no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Each day is precious. Each life is precious. Even each tomato is precious. So really, all we can do is be present in this moment and appreciate those around us and the gifts that nature offers us.

That night, over a simple bowl of spaghetti, I began to find myself again. And while I know right now there’s probably nothing that can make the present for Jon’s family any less shocking or any more bearable, my sincere hope for them is that they will one day find themselves again, too.

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9 Responses to Death, Tomatoes, and Life Again

  1. Yen September 29, 2015 at 8:03 am #

    Sad and true. My heart goes out to his wife and children. I always hope that everything happens for a reason too, that woud help me move on. And yes, be present, always! Thanks for yet another heart touching piece.

  2. Mary September 29, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    Thank you.

  3. Sarah September 29, 2015 at 9:45 am #

    Thank you for this post.

  4. Anna September 29, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    Beautiful….Thank you for sharing.

  5. Alice Green September 29, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

    Wherever Jon is on his journey now, I’m sure he is grateful for the love he and his family have known and will always know from you, Maria, and the whole Rodale family that Jon worked with and his family probably knows many of the Rodale family of workers, too. The support of loving, kind and caring friends can make the worse loss a bit easier to work through and recover from and even eventually grow from to a new and peaceful place in life. This family is in my heart, thank you for sharing your and their story with us.

  6. Dana B September 29, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

    Terrible to hear about, but very well written post. I find cooking does the same for me, and it’s good to hear how soothing others find it.

  7. Karen W September 30, 2015 at 9:27 am #

    A most sincere and kind post. It will resonate with many of us. Thank you for reminding us of what life is about – even accepting that it will end. Even the tomatoes will add their stems to the compost which renews the future life.

  8. Karen W September 30, 2015 at 9:29 am #

    A beautiful and kind post. Thank you for reminding us that life is an ever-changing journey; and that even the tomato stems enrich the compost for the nest season.

  9. Donna in Delaware September 30, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

    Touche Maria.

    I was feeling the same way this past weekend. It is almost one year since I lost my mother suddenly (Oct. 29, 2015). I was feeling lost and alone. Then I ran across a recipe for pear clafouti. I remembered I had some organic Bartlett pears in the fridge and decided to make the clafouti (luckily I had all the ingredients on hand). It turned out wonderfully, and smelled even better whilst baking! I felt so warm and comfy inside because my mother liked to bake, as I do, this time of the year. I smiled about her as I tasted the warm dessert and her presence.

    Mr. Koller’s family will recover in time, with plenty of help. May they find peace and solace from his departure, and gratitude for having had him in their lives, albeit a short time. Bless them and you Maria. May you too find peace.

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