On Death and Pie

My mom’s husband, Dan Martin, passed away earlier this week.

It’s been a tender time for her, for our family, for his sons.

I got to the hospice house only a half an hour after he took his final breath. It was surreal to be there, in his room, with his body, holding my mom’s hand as she tried to take it all in and figure out what was supposed to happen next.


Even though death is an inevitable and essential part of life, it seems so shocking when it happens to someone close to you. And it’s so profoundly sad. Someone is there, eating wings and watching the Seahawks with you, and then they are gone.


My mom spent the afternoon busying herself with logistics, which is both a great distraction from pain and a way to feel accomplished and successful in a time in which you feel so utterly helpless.


Where and when would the memorial service be? Would they have an open casket memorial? Who would bring the sandwiches? What should happen with his wedding ring? What were Dan’s favorite hymns? Did anyone know a good organist?


Dealing with death feels so awkward. No one – except those who work in hospice or funeral homes – seems to know what to say. It’s strange how we are all well-versed in responding to (and celebrating) birth. “You’ll make wonderful parents,” “Enjoy your sleep while you can!,” and “This will change your life forever.” With death, there is a lot more uncertainty about the “right” way to respond.


And the ebb and flow between grief for a loved one gone, and relief that they are no longer suffering, seems to suddenly come and go.


Dan was kind and spent his life committed to his family and church. Dan was the type of person who showed loved through actions; he bought Aaron and I a BBQ and mowed our lawn before we moved into our house in Tacoma. Dan loved my mom, adored his sons and grandsons, and he will be dearly missed.


In September, a dear dear college friend, Jake Vasey, passed away. He was our age and had a spouse and two young children.


Jake was hilarious and sweet and one of those people that everyone always wanted to be around because he loved people and good times. He had such a great straight-faced sense of humor and a heart of gold. He used to say he was from “Fo-Grow” (which was shorthand for Forest Grove, Oregon).


One time, the two of us stayed up all night (as we were both procrastinators in college) and went to get doughnuts at 6 in the morning and then ate some and threw others off the roof of the Olin building at Willamette University. We laughed so hard in our sleep-deprived stupor and then went back to the computer lab to finish our papers.


Aaron and I went to his memorial service earlier this month and bawled our eyes out. His childhood teddy bear and University of Oregon hat were placed at the alter in the church. Friends and family told stories about what an incredible friend, son, brother, husband, and father he was. How could Jake be really and truly gone?


There is something so clarifying about death. I know it sounds cliche, but you realize how short our lives are, how precious we are to one another, and how absolutely horrible, painful, beautiful, and perfect life is.


During the memorial reception, Aaron and I got to see old college friends and catch up. I noticed that our college friends hugged each other a little tighter than we normally would, and were more generous with our words of fondness for each other.


I know these next days and weeks and months will be hard for my mom. I feel so lucky that we moved closer to her before this happened.


I made this cranberry pear pie for Thanksgiving with my mom. Baking is a wonderful therapist and comforter. It provides a way to focus on the details while still letting your mind wander in the quiet waft of butter, spices, and fruit.


Despite the recent sadness, we had a nice Thanksgiving. We drank wine and laughed and shared the thankfulness we felt for each other, which this year felt more pronounced and deep.



7 thoughts on “On Death and Pie

  1. I thought I would know what to type, but I don’t. No words can offer the comfort I wish they could. Your mother is lucky to have you there during the this time, and vice versa.


  2. This is beautiful, Katie, and will touch many hearts. I have felt exactly the way you describe only too often, because I am much older and – as you say – this is life. Still, your words are newly comforting. And the pie looks delicious 😋.


  3. Katie, you have a beautiful way of expressing words, so heart felt. We love your mom and we are so happy you are with her. We never know God’s plan. Let hr know we are here for her. She loves you all so much.


  4. Katie, this was beautiful. I’m one of Jake’s aunts, so your writing was especially meaningful to me. Blessings to you, your Mom and family.


    1. That means a lot to me. Jake was an inspirational and wonderful person. I think this quote fits him well: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou). Jake made everyone feel special and important and I want to be like him in that way. Love to you and your family.


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