Deep as an Ocean

May 6, 2014

A guest post from my wife, Ana Gabriel Mann, on milk, soup, and love as deep as an ocean.

This morning I awoke to realize that the milk was spoiled.

We had bought the milk to make my mom’s favorite homemade tomato soup, from a recipe that her mother, my grandmother, taught me forty years ago.

For the better part of the past five years I’ve been making my mom’s favorite lunches, dinners, Western omelette sandwiches, clam chowders, and anything else she wanted so we could both feel better about the fact that my husband and I could no longer take care of her at home. (And to give her a much needed break from the truly awful food at the nursing home where she had now taken up residence.)

Every morning when I awoke I would plan my day around making and bringing her lunch and her adored hot fresh coffee. I took no phone calls, made no appointments. By noon I would be sitting with her and visiting while she ate, watching her enjoy every bite.

During those visits over lunch, she and I would review every last memory we could dig up. Some days we had truly remarkable conversations about virtually everything of any importance between us, going all the way back to her childhood and, sometimes, all the way forward to her death. She told me things about her life that I had never known. We discussed at length our views of God and the afterlife. She witnessed my tears in those moments when I told her that after she was gone, I would miss her every day for the rest of my life. We talked about anything and everything we could think of — and yet the entire time we were talking I knew that the moment she was gone, I would start to think of the many questions I had never asked, the myriad of things that still went unsaid.

That’s just how it is, I eventually realized. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t say everything.

In the last several weeks of her life her appetite waned and she ate far less. The last two weeks, it was soup that she wanted most, and especially her favorite, her mother’s homemade tomato, made with fresh whole milk.

During this time her pain increased, and the medications given to ease her pain also sedated her and made her sleep many more hours than she was awake. Still, she sat up whenever I came, to have some soup and visit about whatever was new in my life.

One Tuesday near the end of March, John wrote the most beautiful blog about Sylvia. He referred to the place we had arrived, where we were still holding onto her but knew we were near the end of this time, as “where the string meets the knot.”

I held her hand that night, fed her soup by the teaspoonful, and told her about John’s blog post and his metaphor about the string and the knot.

She smiled deeply and said, “That is exactly where we are, Honey.”

She knew, and I knew, that the days of sitting together were numbered. As much as I was fully adult in my understanding, I felt a deep and childlike urgency, a desire to freeze the moment so I wouldn’t ever have to face the inevitable. I had reassured her that I would be sad but that I would be okay, too, to which she replied, “You’ll be fine. You’re strong, like me.”

On Thursday night, it happened: she could no longer swallow the soup. Even the smallest sips made her cough and choke. I brought the thermos of hot soup back home that night; pouring it down the sink, I knew I had made the last meal. The gravity of the moment made me numb. It was as if the house had collapsed.

On Friday I went without soup, we just sat together.

On Saturday morning my most loyal friend, my dear Sylvia, my mother, passed quietly. That morning the sky broke open and delivered a torrential rain.

Simple routines are the guard rails of our lives. They inform us of the fragile, ever-present boundaries between the safe and secure and the chasms of the unknown. We seldom realize their strength until they’re gone. Making home-cooked meals for my mom made me feel that even though I couldn’t control her illness, I could at least bring her company and comfort.

It allowed me to feel that I could somehow control the situation … until I couldn’t.

For the first few days that I didn’t make soup, I felt lost. It wasn’t the soup, really. It was me. I was adrift upon an open sea. Grief coming in waves I couldn’t control, waves I simply had to ride.

Finding the spoiled milk on our refrigerator shelf this morning was a punctuation mark, a period at the end of one sentence and the start of a new one. Much as you may want to hold onto a moment and make it last forever, you can’t. The only moment you can truly possess is the one before you right now.

The spoiled milk made it clear that I’d already set foot on a new path. A path, perhaps, where making homemade soup will serve as a sweet reminder of the power of simple routines, and of love as deep as an ocean.


  1. Linda Ryan

    Tears streaming for this beautiful story, Ana. You paint a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL vision with your words. My tears are for you and the Mom you loved so dearly and had to say goodbye to. And the tears are also for me and the Mom I loved so dearly and had to say goodbye to 27 years ago. And the tears are for everyone who is missing the Mom they loved so dearly and will be missing a little more this Mother’s Day weekend. Wonderful tears… As deep as an ocean. Thank you for helping them flow.

  2. Beverly

    Ana, that was…I don’t know what to say. It was so you, and also reminded me of the feelings I had when my own Mom passed on. For me it was homemade breadcrumbs for meatballs that spoiled. I just want you to know that I grieve with you on the loss of your very special Mom. This is a beautiful piece about your process. Thanks for writing it. Love to you!

  3. Art Manville

    What a wonderful post. Great to hear about your journey. You have been with her before and you will be with her again and until then you can be with her in a moment by remembering your times together.

    And don’t be surprised if she comes for a visit where you know she is by your side.

    Terry smells a certain kind of perfume when her mom stops by.

    Much love on the journey.

  4. Ana

    Dear Linda, Thanks so much for your kind thoughts. Our moms are forever embedded in our hearts and there is a deep bond that can never be broken. I hope you can feel your mom around you, as my dear friend Art suggests. She is definitely there loving you as always.

  5. Ana

    Dear Bev, Ours is a friendship that has wings spanning so many years and I am grateful for you. I also am so happy you knew her when she was younger. Appreciated your comments on John’s post about her. She was and is a truly lovely and kind person. Thank you! Love you. Ana

  6. Ana

    Art – I miss you and Terry and hope we get to have that glass of wine together soon. Thank you so much for your thoughts…. my mom has been reaching out in a million sweet moments.

    Thanks for sharing, and give Terry a big hug for me.

    Love back at ya!

  7. Ana

    Kristi, Thank you for everything. We’ll be walking dogs together soon!

  8. Connie Field

    Ana, You have a wonderful gift of placing authentic thoughts and feelings down in writing. I believe you and John should write a book together. Thanks so much for sharing more of your story with your Mom. Your stories of sitting with your Mom and talking about everything under the sun reminds me of a little plaque that says: “Sit Long…Talk Much.” What a treasure of memories you have with your Mom. She had to have been a wonderful lady to have such an incredible daughter. 🙂

  9. Ana


    Your recent letter was salve to my heart. Thank you for your always kind heart and for your vote on our joined writing…. as I said, a new path has begun and my dear John has been encouraging me to write for years now.

    Much love and thanks,

  10. Rob

    Beautiful post, Ana. What you and John did over the last several months/years truly demonstrated that love is as deep as an ocean. Although I never got to meet your mother personally, I got to know her through you and John and your wonderful stories, and I feel honored to have done so. Love you guys.

  11. Mike Raiche

    Dear Ana,

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you for always being so transparent and authentic. You have taught me so many life lessons over the years that I am truly grateful for. There is only one Ana Gabriel Mann in the world and I feel so blessed to call her my friend. The Raiche family loves you Ana! – Mike

  12. Linda Roe

    Ana, this was so beautiful. What a lovely story – allowing others to see glimpses of this part of the journey with you and your mother. Your love for Sylvia was so sweet and the experiences you shared with her these last five years are a wonderful testament to that love. I agree with John, you need to be writing more. Blessings to you dear one and thank you for sharing this part of your journey. It touches my heart.

  13. Ana


    Thank you so much.

    The year we spent journeying together will never be forgotten. You always show your true heart in every situation. Never worry about who doesn’t see it. You have a kindness and deep beauty that goes beyond understanding. Your heart is always open and your loyalty undeniable.

    Thank you for your friendship. Love, Ana

  14. Ana


    It’s been 8 years now and a lot of miles as friends and colleagues.

    You, more than anyone in my life remind me of my father Mike. I know it sounds strange but you possess what I admire most in him. True heart and true values based on character and the desire to believe in a world that embraces goodness. You are a dear friend and I appreciate you and Joci so much.

    Toward the end, your daily phone calls to check on me meant so much. Thank you for always being there for me, for your prayers and your love.


  15. Ana


    My sister, companion, listening ear and my dearest friend, thanks for knowing what I needed when I couldn’t figure it out. Most of all for the listening, the sorting and the sifting of the most painful journey I’ve encountered thus far. For this I will always be grateful that I can call you and know you are always there.



  16. Beverly


    I so totally agree with what Connie had to say about you and John writing a book together. I’d love to read that book. It could be letters to each other in a story about love and….stuff that happens, you know?. I don’t know why I said that. I just thought it would be so easy for you two to write and wonderful to read.



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