It had been a year since my brother died.We made it past the first holidays, a graduation, his birthday and numerous other memorable occasions that made us tearful and provided reason to get together. It had taken a year to decide what should be done with the ashes so the anniversary brought us together once again to celebrate the life of my Brother Dave.
I thought it would be different. I thought that after a year the grief that gripped my heart and reduced me to breathless sobs would have been released and I would look at my brother’s photos with joy, savoring the memories. I thought that after a year the pain in my mother’s eyes that masked her sparkle and protected her soul would be lifted and she could once again smile with her whole self. I thought my younger sister would release herself from the sadness and realize that she was stronger than the loss. I thought we would all move on with our lives and gently place Brother Dave in our hearts where he belonged.
Two months prior to the anniversary, Mom and I were talking on the phone and she suddenly said, “It has been really hard lately.” She could have been reading my mind. I had been feeling pretty good in the months prior, talking happily with strong words about my brother, only occasionally pausing for a quick cry when I was alone. But as we closed in on the one year mark, the grief came flooding back and the binding force on my heart came back with a new fierceness. I had been feeling so, so sad. In a conversation with my sister shortly after, she too confessed that her grief had suddenly amplified.
We were all feeling a recurrence, and all at the same time. For months we felt it had been getting better and then we were slammed back to the reality that he was gone. We had speculations....we were too much in shock to fully grieve at first; the season of his death was bringing up thoughts of our last days with him; the anniversary--the date on the calendar---was looming ahead of us like a dreaded medical appointment.
I came to the conclusion that the sudden return of grief was because Brother Dave realized it was time to leave us. He always liked being the center of attention and he had had quite a year. He wasn’t ready for the party to be over. I just have to believe it was him, trying to get every last minute of the bond that that first year brings. When someone close to you dies, it seems that the initial year following the death allows for a tight connection to the person as you mourn every memory. After the anniversary, there is a magical release. You surrender the person from your life and place them in your soul where they can live forever. Leave it to Dave to make sure we didn’t place him there a minute too soon.
My sister-in-law Shari was hosting a big weekend gathering for the anniversary and spreading of the ashes. The first night was a family dinner for thirty and on the actual day, there would be a short ceremony on the water to spread the ashes, followed by lunch for the closest friends and family. Brother Dave loved the ocean, loved boats and years prior had fulfilled his dream of having a house by the harbor in Santa Cruz, California. It was the perfect occasion to honor and celebrate him.
A few days before the events began, Shari asked if I could bring a dessert. She didn’t specify what it should be so I started thinking of what to make. I decided it should be easy to eat without plates and silverware but cookies didn’t seem quite right. I didn’t really know if Dave had a favorite dessert but my mind kept going to chocolate, maybe something with chocolate and nuts.
I had just returned home from a trip back East so the fridge was mostly bare and I wasn't finding what I needed for the recipes I was contemplating. Too lazy to go to the store, I worked off of a few ideas and concocted something that I thought most people would like. It ended up tasting like a modern version of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
And then it hit me....my family loved Reese’s. I knew it was a favorite for Mom and me but I couldn’t quite recall if my brother was also fighting us for them. When I arrived to the house, dessert in hand, the first person I saw was my lovely niece Jessie. I asked her, “Did your Dad like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?” She smiled and laughed. “He loved them. Remember...he called them Reesie’s? We have a whole jar of them for this weekend.”
I had forgotten all about “Reesie’s”. We all called them that. I think Mom must have started it, or maybe the kids did and mom just adopted the name. Either way, I don’t know how I could have forgotten, but Brother Dave obviously didn’t and he reminded me that he wanted Reesie’s for his party. Everyone loved the brownies and when they asked where I got the recipe I told them, “I was just channeling Dave.”
"There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief." - Aeschylus
Reesie’s Brownies for Dave
2 boxes Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix Make according to directions, or use any brownie recipe to make two 8” x 8” pans of soft, rich brownies. Cool completely. Remove from pan as whole cakes and then return to pan.
Peanut Butter Frosting: 1 cup smooth peanut butter 1/4 cup butter, softened 3/4 cup powdered sugar 1/8 tsp nutmeg 1/8 tsp salt 2 tsp sour cream 1 tsp milk 1 tsp vanilla
Cream together peanut butter and butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Slowly beat in powdered sugar, salt and nutmeg. Add sour cream, milk and vanilla and beat until smooth. Spread frosting over cooled brownies all the way to sides of pan.
Chocolate topping: 7 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips 1/4 cup butter 2 tsp nice quality flake salt like fleur de sel
Melt chocolate and butter slowly in small heatproof bowl placed on top of saucepan of water on stove, stirring frequently until completely melted and smooth. Turn off heat and leave on stove until ready to use. (This can be done in microwave. Heat for short periods, mixing well after each time until completely smooth.)
Cool chocolate until slightly warm but not hot, spread over top of peanut butter frosting in pan, covering all the way to the edges. Sprinkle generously with salt. Refrigerate until hard. Cut into squares and serve at room temperature.