jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

On Grief and Farm Stands

kids and sky

Picking apples beneath a September sky 
September 2016

I was picking up our share at the local farm today. It’s been a long week with a boil water ban due to a water main break. It was strange in our suburban world to be so closely connected to something as fundamental as where water comes from, and how and if it can be used to safely wash our food. We don’t think about the root of things much, or at least I don’t.

But finally the ban was over and I was able to head to the farm stand and get our vegetables for the week. I walked out to the fields alone to pick my half pint of cherry tomatoes.

It still feels awkward and a little empty not having my children by my side to pick with me. For years it was me surrounded by them pulling on me, pushing me, and now I find myself off balance. I miss them pulling clandestine  tomatoes from the vines to eat and complaining about the heat or the dirt or their siblings. I think I may had depended on their weight to keep me steady.


kids at a farm stand

Company at the farm stand
Fall 2013

And the weather has suddenly turned cold, 55° when it was almost 90° last week. I pulled my cardigan tighter around me, listened to a favorite naughty girlfriend-y podcast, and tried to get used to being with myself, quiet in my own thoughts.

When I headed back into the stand to pick up my beets, lettuce, and peppers, I unplugged my earphones. It was unusually crowded, with a group of adults milling about, clumped awkwardly in front of the chalkboard signs. One adult was clearly in the lead, and she turned to the people with her and explained what the sign meant, how to weigh the produce, what was in our share this week.  Someone sneezed and as I said God bless you the leader reminded him to cover his nose when he sneezes.

They were from a group home for people with intellectual disabilities or a work place for people with developmental delays. I smiled and nodded to the people crowding around her, said excuse me when I needed to sneak through and pick out my lettuce.

One tall, gray-haired man stepped up close to me and tapped me on the shoulder and made a spooky Halloween growling noise with witch fingers curled in front of him.

“Is that your spooky Halloween noise?” I asked. He nodded, smiling. “That’s a good one,” I said and he gave me a huge grin.

Then a young woman caught my eye and we both introduced ourselves to each other at the same time, my knobby hand briskly shaking her incredibly soft, gentle one. She told me that she was with this group and that she likes coming to the farm stand. She asked me what CSA meant, and I looked to the farmstand manager to clarify that it means community supported agriculture,  which I tried to explain, although I fear it may have gotten lost in translation.  She told me about the work they do which I didn’t quite understand but it had something to do with shredding things and microwaves.

She said it was easy because they couldn’t handle doing harder things. I told her that I stayed at home and took care of my kids and my house and people thought that was easy, too.

She told me she had two nephews ages six and eight and that she knew taking care of kids wasn’t easy at all. I told her then maybe what she does isn’t all that easy for everyone either, which she seemed to consider for a moment. Then I told her my children were six, seven, seven and nine. She counted in her head for a moment and then triumphantly said that she was one of four children too, and I said I was one of five.

Right about then it was time for me to leave and they were finishing up their shopping, so I shook her hand again, said goodbye and then turned to gather my bags of produce. I smiled all the way out of the farm stand for having met such a sweet, shining character.

And then when I stepped out into the sun of the parking lot I was hit with a bone quivering wave of sorrow, and I started to cry.


Mom, Jennie, sister, sister, father, Butchie, brother
circa 1977

I just miss my brother, I kept saying to myself. I just miss him. I miss him. I miss knowing he is out there. I miss being able to picture him. He would have hated coming to a farm stand and that young woman would have thought he was stupid or silly or both for never using words and always stealing things and pulling everyone’s hair and screaming all the time.

So maybe I was grieving both for the way things never were, for my brother never having been able to shop at a farm stand on a beautiful fall morning. Or maybe I was crying at the reality that I would never see my brother again, that in his death four years ago, I’d lost him altogether. But still, this sweet group and their morning at the farm stand had reminded me of a parallel universe in which I used to live.

I thought about how my children know each other so well and love each other in their own combative way. And how that always reminds me of when I was a child and had my siblings around me, such a huge part of who I was, especially my brother who seemed always to be a presence, always a part of the things I associate with the comfort and safety of home, his noises and needs and scent.


Jennie, 1st birthday
Mom, Butchie, Jennie, sister, sister
February, 1972

I remember knowing and loving my brother when I was their age in a way that is deeply visceral, a protective tugging in my chest.

I was talking to a friend of mine recently dealing with the loss of a parent. I told her about this thing that I read, something someone posted on Facebook, an answer a grandfather had written explaining death and grieving. He said that it is like we are in an ocean storm and the storm is horrible and that grief is everywhere and that it crashes against us smashing everything we know.

Grief pours down on us and we are mired in a grief so deep we cannot believe we will be through the grief. When the storm passes there are the after waves and we are swallowed whole in their depths and then we rise up to the surface and see the light again. And this continues on, the bright moments eventually outweighing the occasional wave of grief that pours over us, the waves ebbing away almost completely over time.

But still, there are occasional rogue waves.

I was blindsided by that wave of grief today. It has been sneaking up on me I think, with the changing of the weather, and the vulnerability that happens when I send my kids back to school, when I suddenly have more time to myself to think and consider as I go about my daily chores.

I miss my brother. I miss the quiet thrum of his internal light, a light that had gotten dimmer over the years because distance from people does that, but more because the pain and illness of living had done that to him.

The wave has mostly passed, and I can sit and write this. I can’t help but think for a moment that I am grateful to have found that grief again, even if it was at the farm stand in the crystal, clear September morning light. Because I am reminded that he was. My brother Butchie once was. And his light shone brightly, to me anyway, to my family, hopefully to my children when I tell them stories about him, and maybe now to you.

And I was reminded that I carry his light with me in the place I carry my children’s infant hands on me, the smell of seasons changing, lost things that define who I am, love.

via Photo Challenge: Nostalgia



21 comments on “On Grief and Farm Stands

  1. Burns the Fire
    September 30, 2016

    Crying. xoxo

    • jgroeber
      January 4, 2017

      Has it taken me this long to reply to comments? Why, yes. This has been that kind of year. Thank you always for dropping by anyway, even though I hardly deserve it.

      • Burns the Fire
        January 5, 2017

        You should know: as much as I adore you, Jen, I come for the work! 🙂

  2. Jesska
    September 30, 2016

    *schnief* *hugs*

    • jgroeber
      January 4, 2017

      Ah, thank you. Sometimes a little touch of sadness is a good thing, no?

      • Jesska
        January 4, 2017

        It’s certainly not a bad thing 🙂

        • jgroeber
          January 4, 2017

          (You’re so fast! You put me to shame.)

          • Jesska
            January 4, 2017

            Noooo! No shame required; I’m sitting in bed, ill, with a cup of lemon-and-honey in one hand and my phone in the other – when it feeps, I have instant access and nothing else I feel I should be doing instead. You on the other hand have 4 children and a husband and a house and goodness knows what else to look after 🙂

  3. kellylmckenzie
    September 30, 2016

    I do understand. Those rogue waves continue to blindside me almost 20 years on. As with you and your brother, I’m reminded that my husband did exist. He’s in the eyes of my son and the smile of my daughter.
    Keep telling the stories. They matter.

    • jgroeber
      January 4, 2017

      Thank you for that. I think of you and how that must have been, those kiddies depending on you and the grief waves sloshing around you. Talk about an internal light shining brightly. Thanks for shining yours this way, and for your stories, too.

  4. Stacy di Anna
    September 30, 2016

    Sending a hug. I really think it’s September that triggers the nostalgia. Between the kids going back to school (prompting both relief and sadness), the changing weather, the holidays and year’s end on the horizon…. I always feel a bit wistful and melancholy. You continue to honor Butchie through your love, and in sharing your memories with all of us. xo

    • jgroeber
      January 4, 2017

      Yes, I feel like it was September. And then it was the election. And then the holidays. I’m ready to shake it off now, I think. 😉 No more melancholy. Or at least less of it. Thank you always for your kind words.

  5. santayocheved
    October 1, 2016

    In nineteen days,i would be giving honour to a man who thought me value,Like you feel about Butchie i still have those old feelings of keeping my Grandpa’s company through his last days. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • jgroeber
      January 4, 2017

      I’m sorry I never replied to this lovely comment. I hope the moment to honor your grandpa was a good one. They stay with us, these formative people. Thank you for stopping by.

  6. Samara
    October 3, 2016

    You’re such a gorgeous writer. Even your sadness is beautiful.

    • jgroeber
      January 4, 2017

      You are. You are.
      And thank you for those words. Coming from such a deeply feeling writer, they mean so much.

  7. Dawn Quyle Landau
    October 18, 2016

    I was still meeting the people in the farm stand, the very one I fell in love with when I was there, and then… I was crying, because I knew Butchie was at the heart of this. I told you that day, I miss him, because you have made him so real to those of us who love your beautiful words. I picture him sometimes–– he simply pops into my thoughts, and as I read this, I felt a visceral missing/sadness, before you even left the store. Grief is so personal, and yet so very universal. Thanks for sharing Jen. xox

    • jgroeber
      January 4, 2017

      Look at me finally going back to reply to old comments. Ah, the shame. Is it like wedding gifts? You get a year?
      Thank you as always for your gorgeous and generous empathy. It is no wonder you give such comfort to people in their last days of hospice. You are always willing to go there, be present.
      You’ve captured it beautifully, grief is so very personal and also so universal. Hope you are faring well in your adventures abroad today. Thinking of you!

  8. drawandshoot
    October 28, 2016

    Oh boy, the tenderness of this is beautiful. This love, this ache so beautiful…

    • jgroeber
      January 4, 2017

      Thank you for your kind words. I bet you would have captured it in a single gorgeous lyrical photo.

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