My Irreplaceable Husband

Vic with a friend, 1996

Vic with a friend, 1996

“The damned knives are still dull,” I mutter to myself. “I need Vic to sharpen them.”

Just washed organic lettuce, bright baby peppers, and cucumbers drain into the kitchen sink. I gently sweep them to the maple counter top, a chopping block wide enough for two. We designed it by standing elbow to elbow and measuring the distance two choppers need to avoid bumping into each other.

I grab a knife from the magnetic holder. Dull. I grab a second. Duller. Then a third. Dullest.

Vic honed our knives with rectangular sharpening stones every week. I had knives to envy, but that’s past tense.

My half-hearted attempt

My attempt

David's skill

My son David’s skill

He tried to teach me. Long straight strokes feeling for the right angle of the edge. Then turn. Equal number of strokes on each side. He could sense the roughness of the blade against stone and find the path of least resistance. I need to find that for myself. When the knife edge moved smoothly, he finished it off with a finer stone.

I know how—theoretically. Vic also taught our sons and they gave me lessons after he died, but my knives stay dull.

With a sharp knive

With a sharp knife…

What is it about knives? I can drive a tractor and dig a hole. I’ve learned to handle many jobs that were once Vic’s or hire sometime to help, but I’m stopped in my tracks by knives.

It was Vic’s job. His thumb knew how to test a blade’s edge. He sharpened the brush hog, lawn mower, flat-edged shovels, trimmers, and clippers. He sharpened the camping knife he had bought in college. He sharpened scissors and the edges of hoes. After sharpening, he oiled the blades and cleaned the stones.

His love of sharpness showed in his quick-eyed photography and ear for language. I miss his fast observations and smart tongue. It feels long ago that I lived with someone who made me laugh at myself and life, someone who shared my private jokes.

I have Vic’s sharpening stones, large, dark gray, medium and fine grit. My knives are dull from splitting sweet potatoes and chopping greens. Each time I use them, I hear Vic’s voice in my head.'s easy to make this

…it’s easy to make this

“Sharpen those knives, E. You’ll get better with practice. You’re making a deal out of nothing. You deserve sharp knives.”

I know, V, but I’ll do it later. Maybe dull knives resonate with the ache I still feel cooking without you. A reminder of the inside jokes and deep reflections no longer shared. A reminder of how different my life is without you. how well I’ve done, but how something irreplaceable is always missing.

Maybe I’m just wary of those occasional sharp stabs of grief.


What irreplaceable jobs does/did your partner do? What surprising things do you miss when that person is gone temporarily or for good? For other articles about cooking food with the family and great summer recipes, see Better Than Your Grandma’s Marinara or Cooking a Bowl of Italian Heaven. You’ll also find delicious healthy recipes in the recipe section of my website.

  1. As always, your post, makes me happy-sad. I love every entry about your long and wonderful relationship with Vic. Sending love and hugs your way and sharing.

    • Thanks, Patti. It was a good match with bumps along the way. Then life said, “Enough of that, sister. Now we’re doing this.” We don’t get a choice, do we? Can’t do a thing but roll with the changes. E

  2. I’m not quite sure, but this one might be your best. There’s certainly one thing you know how to sharpen. Acutely beautiful!

    • Thank you, Dennis. I never know where a post will strike a chord. It’s hard to describe a person, but this was an attempt to paint an aspect of Vic’s strong Mars nature.

  3. David just sharpened our knives on Sunday. We were just getting started with the chopping of garlic and tomatoes for marinara sauce. He picked up one knife, then another, just as you had done. “These knives are ridiculously dull!” He grabbed the sharpening stones and didn’t stop until he had sharpened every single knife! Then I washed them and tested each blade on a tomato. “If you can’t slice that tomato super easily with each knife, I’ll take another pass.” Vic taught him well.

    • Yup, that’s the drill, Liz. Sharpen on rougher stone, then smoother one. Then ask the chief cook to test on a tomato. Return knives to stones when necessary. Then do every knife in the house no matter how lousy the steel. Vic and David love(d) their machinery and tools.

  4. Elaine – I love and admire your sweet, acute observations about life after loss.

    • Lynne, I appreciated many things about our “working” relationship. The glue was our ability to work through rough spots and support each other when life was challenging. I miss those big things even more than sharp knives, but sometimes the details illustrate something important about a person. So it was with Vic and knives. Thank you for your support and encouragement.

  5. I have been reading your posts and I love them. This one really spoke to me. I know that one day I will miss my cooking hubby and his sharp knives. He can’t abide the dull ones either. I’m not good at sharpening them…
    Thanks for your writings.

    • Hi Linda. Thanks for letting me know. Ah, your husband cooks. I did the main cooking, but Vic did lots chopping and cleaning up. I miss the intimacy of standing side by side, cutting vegetables and talking about the day.
      Thank you for reading what I write. I appreciate it.
      Best to you, E

  6. Elaine, this is so beautifully sad and speaks to me directly. Yes, we learn to do some things our husbands used to do, but we resist others–maybe because we don’t want to let that pain go.

    Adrian always took care of the cars, and I find myself resisting getting mine cleaned, inspected, etc.

    But for knives–I use an electric knife sharpener which is not expensive and is easy to use–just in case you decide you do want sharp knives one day. 😉

    • Lynne, now that I’ve named my avoidance behavior, I sharpen the knives with less resistance. But there are still cars and tractors and house maintenance tasks that were Vic’s domain. All things we are forced to learn to do on our own. Thanks for the knife sharpening info. It may be time to change the family ritual around knives.

  7. Elaine, this speaks so loudly and gently of all those “secondary” losses we experience after the loss of our spouses. And somehow when it is about food preparation, it hits an even deeper place within us…the nurturing center. For me, the first one I encountered was making coffee. That was Bill’s “job” each day and it took me a long while before I would relent and make myself a cup of coffee each morning. Cooking is still a challenge. You have a unique way of communicating those highly significant but small losses (like sharp knives) so that the full impact of those losses is felt by the reader. Thank you, Elaine.

    • Secondary loss is the right term, Mary. I imagine everyone has many they could name. You remind me that food preparation has a powerful symbolic significance. Along with food preparation, it took me a few years to eat dinner on my deck (our favorite dining spot). Each loss seems small or unimportant, but when we add them together, the whole pattern of life changes.
      I think of you and Bentley with hope and affection.
      Thank you for your encouraging words. E

  8. Your writing is a precious gift that I count among my treasures, dear Elaine. Thank you for reminding us that it’s the little things that really matter in life, and we are wise to notice and appreciate them. ♥

    • I know, Marty. I think of those times when Vic got out the sharpening stones and I said I needed to use the very knife he was working on at just that minute. But if the knives or garden clipper got dull, I knew who to ask. I LOVE being one of your treasures since you are one of mine. Thank you.

  9. I love reading your warm, sweet stories about you and Vic. And every time I do, I feel a sadness for a beautiful love story divided. It’s the little things in life we so often take for granted. My husband turns on the dishwasher and empties it. Before he turns it on he is careful to arrange the dishes in precise order and fixes the utensils so they aren’t wildly strewn in, the way I put them in. Not once does he ever turn on that dishwasher before commenting to me the same thing every single time, “Cub, you have to stop firing things in like this.” He calls me Cub, and although I get annoyed every time he reprimands me for it, I chuckle under my breath. I know I would think of him every time I’d turn on that dishwasher. And a note about sharp knives, I am bad like you with using duller knives and have tried hopelessly sharpen them with my stone and do not have the knack for it either. 🙂

    • Thank you, Debby. Those pet names and even small complaints are things we miss. I love it that your husband calls you Cub and you can count on his dishwasher correction. And he must be reasonably tolerant of the kitchen table workshop, too. Here’s to keeping our pencils sharp. I appreciate your support. E

  10. A dear partner in the kitchen. Sigh. I look at my knives and wish I had someone to chide me for not keeping them sharp. I wish someone would fry the fish as I put together a salad. Someone who would sing in the kitchen and make tea for me. Nice to dream, nicer to remember. I’m glad you wrote about these sweet memories. It makes it easier for me to dream.

    • Things that felt minor at the time feel like little blessings now. It’s getting easier to loop back to good memories. For a while, I couldn’t see over the huge mountain of grief planted in the middle of the view. Some days are still like that.

  11. Elaine, thank you for this wonderful post. I too understand your ability to take on tasks that were Vic’s, learning how to live on your own after his death and trying to assimilate his abilities into yours. But for as much as we develop new skills, and make a honorable attempt at being single, there are still those things that we don’t like to do, we don’t want to do, and damn it if they were still here, they would get to do!! When all is said and done, there are unique things and rituals that die with each of us, for me, that was one of many eye-opening experiences about loss…

    • I love your words, “an honorable attempt at being single.” Yes, damn it, why aren’t they here with us? I still ask that question after six years and don’t expect an answer. Yes, those unique rituals of life die with us and that was so obvious to me at Vic’s death. Remembering this helps me cherish what matters–kindness and love. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  12. Elaine, I have not experienced such profound grief myself as of yet, but your writings have given me a glimpse into that undeniable world of grief we will all eventual experience. Thank you for sharing your own personal journey, I can’t wait to read the book. I know it will help me understand the worries some of our guest here at Hope Lodge are facing.

    • Hi Loriann. Thanks for your supportive comment. Yes, the book will help you understand the worries and decision-making overload and chaos that comes when someone is extremely ill. Heroic treatments mean everyone has to be heroic and caregivers have to keep their feet on the ground. The book should be available by the end of September. If you want to order a copy now, you can do this with the publisher or Amazon. The links to buy the book at my website take you to my publisher who will be the first to ship–and I like to support independent publishers and bookstores. I look forward to meeting you.

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