A Smile, a Coke and a Stairway

My best friend visits his father's grave on a whim. It can be after church, or just whenever, not necessarily on predictable, expected dates. I've always found that endearing and a little unusual in my circle of friends. Few of us have lost parents, even fewer make regular visits to cemeteries.

For me, there is no cemetery. I sit on the stairs facing the bookcase on the landing where my father's ashes are beautifully boxed. Usually, I have a Coke and a couple of French fries in hand. Sometimes, I'll play an old Earth, Wind & Fire CD from my dad's collection, maybe Sammy Davis Jr., or Barry White. He could imitate Barry White so well, my friends and I used to alternately want to die from embarrassment or laugh uncontrollably.

Many people have grief rituals and I know mine is, well, a little odd. Its significance traces back to summers with my father when many of my mother's dietary home rules were mitigated by being so far away. At home, it was mung beans, yes, Big Mac, don't ask. During visits in my father's favorite season, there were always hot, humid nights punctuated by cricket chirp and the squeaking of ice diluting my Coke. Yes, that food memory link still works pretty well.

Before Tropical Storm Iselle hit Hawaii this summer, the system had intercepted the islands' trade winds bringing the same damp stillness that I remembered from childhood. The familiar craving for grief junk food began to make itself known. My eyes lingered over a McDoodle bag on one of our reporter's desk. Quickly though, the call of a French fry fix was quashed by the hurricane workload. At home, storm preparations meant removing plants, lanai furniture, anything that might easily end up in a tree. Caught short, we frantically shopped to replace emergency supplies, especially the water we had squirreled away, then used during the 2011 tsunami.

If you follow Hawai'i politics, you know that the day after the storm made landfall on Hawai'i Island, the state's primary election happened anyway, albeit without two polling places damaged and unable to open in the Puna district. As concern abated over a second hurricane that initially tracked behind Iselle, chatter fixated on the fact that residents more concerned with getting out of their driveways than getting out to vote would likely decide the close US Senate race. Oh yes, and on restoring power and bringing water, ice and food to the thousands affected by the storm.

In a move that surprised many given the circumstances, the state's election office scheduled a makeup trip to the polls for the following Friday, six days after the rest of the state had voted. Allowed by law, the decision came under fire within Hawaii. and grabbed attention outside of the state. That law and how the makeup primary was handled are already in the scopes of Hawaii's Elections Commission and some state lawmakers casting eyes toward the 2015 legislative session.

During the past two weeks, events have unfolded, refolded and popped open again. The daily flying by our broadcaster seats plus hours spent screen-glued to research, write and tweet brought another personal lesson in how well action changes emotional states. Until today.

Sometime around midmorning, the quiet of my office was palpable. We're a closely knit crew in not a lot of space, with a fairly flat power structure. Someone is often in someone else's office or standing by a cubicle discussing something. Today, though, everyone seemed rooted to her desk. The obvious smacked me on the head: the pace of the last few weeks had masked a wave of grief, but it hadn't done away with it. I was now caught on the inside.

Why today, who knows? Why does my best friend randomly stop at the cemetery? I can't answer that one, either. What I can say for certain is that the sadness does pass as long as it's acknowledged. For me, I know what that means. On the way home, I'll make a quick trip down the drive-through and later perch on a stair with a Coke.