The Cutting Board by Lee Erickson, MA, LPCC

At our last Christmas together, my brother Randy and his family gave me a wooden cutting board for Christmas. And seven months later, he was dead. And while it has been several years since his death, I’ve come to know two things: I haven’t been able to wrap my head around the fact that he’s really gone and I haven’t been able to use the cutting board. It sits on the back of my cupboard, propped up, leaning against the wall.

A cutting board is a practical thing. A thing to be used. And yet each time I need to cut or chop something, I dig for a different cutting board, as if saving the cutting board he gave me is somehow saving something of him for me.

On one hand, I know it’s ridiculous. While the cutting board came from Randy, I know that it was really my sister-in-law who picked it out. She would have been the one who shopped for the cutting board and the one who wrapped it in funny Christmas wrapping paper with scads of reindeer having a snowball fight while Santa waits angrily in the sleigh. She would have been the one who wrote my name on the tag and the one who would have made sure it had gotten in with all the other Christmas gifts to bring to our holiday gathering. She’s a good person.

I’m not even really clear if my brother would have known that they had gotten me a cutting board that year for Christmas and yet I cherish it as one of my most valuable possessions.

That is how it is with grief. My care and love for the human person gets transferred to a thing. After his death, my sister in law offered me a number of my brothers’ coats and jackets and pullovers he had accumulated. I was happy have them.

I wear some of the coats often and I think about my brother. I think about all the years growing up, sharing a bedroom, playing board games and mixing Lincoln logs with green plastic army men on cold, wet rainy spring days. I think of him sitting on his bed in the South bedroom of the house we grew up in, going through his vast collection of baseball cards before he sold them all to Noel Schmidt for a fraction of what they were worth. I think of him enduring cold winter nights, shoveling off the basketball court adjacent to the garage, shooting baskets til his fingers where numb and bleeding. I think of his smile and his laugh and his goofiness and his sorrow.

I don’t need the board games or the army men or basketballs or cutting boards to remind me of my brother. I remember it all; his tears when we lost our brother and our dad, his joys at marrying the woman of his dreams and at the birth of his two beautiful daughters, his disappointment at losing jobs and his fear and pain at facing terminal illness are all tucked safely away in my heart. While the physical things may trigger specific memories, the ones that are meant to stay, will stay and the memories that are meant to fade, will gently fade.

And through it all, my brother is with me. One of these days, I will grab that cutting board leaning on the back of my cupboard and chop away on an onion or some celery and my brother will continue to live on in my heart.

Lee Erickson, MA, LPCC is a grief and trauma therapist in St. Paul, Minnesota. Discover more at www.grieftrauma.com.

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