Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt is a lovely memoir written by a prestigious author / journalist / columnist about how, following the death of his daughter, he and his wife Ginny move in to help their son-in-law raise their three grandchildren.
I don’t know if it is that theory of Schadenfreude which caused me to read this book, but I’m willing to bet it’s the personal grief I feel now that led me to pick it up on a lonely Friday night. 166 pages long, I read it in under 2 hours, with the feeling that once I finished it, I should read it all over again.
Low-key, lacking all the melodrama and high emotion which typically accompany works on this topic, this book quietly outlines what you have to do when tragedy strikes—put one foot in front of the other and take the next step. Rosenblatt writes of the simple moments that make a life into a Life, with lived-in moments set in the now.
There were several passages which moved me hard. Shoved me really. What I’m about to quote comes after a description of how Rosenblatt’s 3 children interacted as kids, the kind of men his sons grew up to be. The day after his daughter died, his sons and he are standing on the deck, crying. He writes: “The trouble with a close family is that it suffers closely, too. I stood with my two sons in the cold and put my arms around them, feeling the shoulders of men.”
It’s a terrible thing, this grief that joins them in that moment, but I cannot help savoring the beauty of the writing, the so-perfect description. While the book is composed of many funny moments, my favorite moment comes on p. 94-95. Boppo (Rosenblatt) has his youngest grandson Bubbies on his lap. Bubbies points to the book he wants Boppo to read: The Letters of James Joyce.
“It seems an ambitious choice for a twenty-three-month-old boy, but I take down the book and prop it up before us.” Rosenblatt “reads” a few letters Joyce has addressed to Bubbies: “Dear Bubbies, Went to the playground today. Tried the slide. It was a little scary. I like the swings better. I can go very high, just like you.” He continues, “I occasionally amuse myself with an invented letter closer to the truth of Joyce’s life and personality. ‘Dear Bubbies, I hate the Catholic Church, and am leaving Ireland forever. Love, James Joyce.’ It tickles me,” Rosenblatt goes on, “that Bubbies has chosen to latch onto a writer who gladly would have stepped on a baby to get a rave review.”
Rosenblatt writes more of the quiet moments of this first year of daughterlessness than of the raging moments. While mentioned in a few places, he seems content simply to trace his family’s steps through the grief process. There’s so little wailing and gnashing of teeth at times I almost forgot this was a memoir of grief. Rosenblatt’s wife, a few times, mentions how wrong it is that she is living her daughter’s life—meeting teachers, arranging play dates, organizing birthday parties, laying out the morning’s clothes, attending athletic events and so forth. And those moments, written gracefully and carefully and thoughtfully, are absolutely crushing.
But somehow not. He doesn’t dwell on the unknowableness of tragedy. He doesn’t rail at the sky or God, though he’s certainly angry at this stupid loss. He doesn’t look for the hidden meaning, the greater purpose, The Plan that will make Amy’s death make sense. He acknowledges it as something that happened. And tries, with his son-in-law and wife, to raise the kids as Amy would have.
Look for this book. Find it at the book store or your library or a friend’s house and read it. Read it. It is gentle and sweet without being saccharine or cloying. I promise you, the pages all but turn themselves.