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    flowers and drawing of brain

    My Love Is Bigger Than Me

    Nashville Food Project founder Tallu Schuyler Quinn reflects on the life she cannot take with her when she dies.

    By Tallu Schuyler Quinn

    June 16, 2022
    • Nicole J Solomon

      Thank you for your moving article sharing your personal grief and hope. It resonated with me in how much we cherish here on Earth, yet the real losses are those we love most being left in pain and grief. I personally think I could leave earth happily if I knew it wouldn't cause pain to those I love most. Because death is as natural a progression of life as birth is. My question is if I've done everything possible to show love to those around me while one can, and if my own relationship with God is where it should be. Obviously one fails in this daily. But I cannot imagine how difficult a time this must be for you. My heart goes out to you and your dearest children and husband. Write your children letters for them to open each year on their birthday... Write your husband letters and hide them in books in your library. It will give them something physical to hang onto at first until they realize you're always with them in spirit!! Most of all, thank you for sharing something so deeply painful and personal to you because there are others learning from you as you share it! Thank you!!!

    • Annette Eyrich

      Thank you, for posting this. I was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer in 2019. I’m currently tumor free and no longer in treatment. Life is fragile and beautiful. I’m grateful for each new day.

    The dishes that we received as wedding gifts are a set of beautifully handmade pottery that we love. We joke about the pottery often because each dish must be hand-washed. I vividly remember when our two children were very young and the daily work at home was abundant. There was this one night Robbie and I were blaming each other about the buildup of dirty dishes in the kitchen, and he turned to me and said, “It’s just that sometimes I come to our sink full of dirty dishes, and I wonder whether anything we have can go in the dishwasher?” And then we laughed, and it broke the marital tension in an instant.

    I love the story of our dishes. When we were considering a wedding registry, I pulled out a stack of six small dessert plates in six different colors. I’d bought them in Vermont years before. I flipped over a plate and saw that they were handmade by someone who signed their pots “R. Wood Studio.” We looked online for R. Wood Studio, and it turned out Rebecca Wood’s fine pottery is made in Athens, Georgia, where Robbie lived for seven years. A few months later we visited R. Wood Studio together, which turned out to be located only a block away from his old apartment, and decided it would be the perfect place to register for our wedding.

    Like any pottery that is used every day, many of the bowls and plates have cracked or chipped or broken altogether over the last ten years. All those meals! We hand-wash every piece and even fetch out the dirty ones a babysitter or relative unknowingly places into the dishwasher. Tonight I am thinking about what it will feel like for Robbie, on some distant day, when the last piece of our pottery cracks and gets tossed into the garbage bin. It’s just another image I have when I find myself thinking about him here without me, bravely parenting our two sensitive children in a very scary world, helping them navigate this life that will include much suffering.

    What will he think about while slogging solo through the hand-wash-only dishes? In times of overwhelm, will he resent my death? Will he feel so alone? Will he embrace his grief? Will he know how to cook dinner? Will he find some other bright companion when he is ready? What will she think of the handmade pottery?

    The beautiful pottery is just one of many earthly treasures I think about starting to loosen myself from – the preciousness of all that I cherish in this physical life that I will not be able to take with me when I pass on from this to that. These treasures are not opulent and probably resemble things you may cherish as well: the wobbly clay pinch pots sculpted by chubby young hands; the pressed dried wildflowers stashed between the leaves of a book: postcards and photographs and letters I’ve saved; the crushed paper cup Christmas ornaments dangling from a pipe cleaner; the calligraphy and art my mother has made over the years. And not to be forgotten, the bottomless stash of gorgeous yarns I can no longer knit, and the heavy-laden bookshelves of words I have cherished but can no longer read.

    I’ve been thinking about heaven constantly – what I believe about it and what I wonder about it. I have intellectualized heaven so much, but lately I am meditating almost daily on what it will be like to reunite with God without the earthly trappings that prevent full and profound communion.

    I despair when I think about how, in my death, I will leave Robbie and our two children, whose bodies and voices I know as intimately as my own. I think about my physical separation from them, and it occurred to me that, in my death, I could reunite with the three babies we lost to miscarriage – one in 2013, one in 2015, and one in 2019. The nightmare of dying young and leaving my living family is softened a bit when I imagine the possibility that in heaven I might reunite with all this love I carried in my body but knew only partially. What will it be like to leave this and enter into that?

    I dwell with grief. For me, this is the natural consequence of living with terminal cancer and meditating on all I love. Some may interpret this as hopelessness or a lack of faith on my part that I could live another decade. But the truth is, as much as I journey to heaven in my mind and imagine who I might be able to love on and hold, I also go to sleep picturing Lulah at her graduation from high school or marveling at Thomas starring in a high school theater production. I can articulate every detail of this imagined future in which I am alive for these far-off dreams, even as I meditate on my own death. Florence + the Machine have a song called “100 Years” with a chorus that concludes “Give me arms to pray … with / Instead of ones that hold too tightly.” I am holding both my hope and my grief together in the same hands. It is a loose hold, looser than I am accustomed to. My love is so much bigger than me.

    Excerpted from What We Wish Were True, copyright © 2022 by Tallu Schuyer Quinn. Used by permission of Convergent Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

    Contributed By

    Tallu Schuyler Quinn founded the Nashville Food Project. She died on February 17, 2022, after battling cancer. She was forty-two.