It was just to be a post-vaccination brunch to bid my oldest brother goodbye. He and his girlfriend were moving to Colorado to be near her daughter. A late-in-life change, a huge one. But also a happy one.

Brian Cone at Kate’s wedding in 2010. He passed away in June 2019, six months before Kate lost her husband. Photos courtesy of Kate Cone Brancaccio

A sunny April day, nothing short of a miracle, and I packed my “famous” Basque salad in a cooler and drove the two hours from Waterville to my sister-in-law’s house in York. I would usually have said, “… to my brother’s house …,” but my brother Brian, her husband, had died almost two years before. It was the first time we had gathered since his memorial service in June 2019.

After an hour of catching up in the kitchen, the four of us went to the large Danish-modern dining table in the next room and stood behind the chairs. My sister-in-law teased, “This is my seat,” smiling, as if we’d challenge her. She then extended her hand to the head of the table and asked my oldest brother, “Do you want to sit here?” He said, “Sure,” and took the seat that would have been Brian’s.

Brian Cone, hand on his hip, in 1960.

Then we all sat and began passing platters, remarking over the cheese board, the warm focaccia, the shrimp and rice salad I’ve made a thousand times and bring to every gathering. And we mention the day in April 2019 when we’d had a similar brunch, Brian in attendance, and watched Tiger Woods make his big comeback to win the Masters.

This April day, we were finally engaging in the business of enjoying good food and one another’s company after two years of isolating, quarantining and, in my sister-in-law’s and my cases, grieving.

Six months after losing my brother Brian, I lost my husband. Both died before COVID descended on us in its locust-like swarm, but the added shroud of isolating and missing the contact and comfort of family felt like the leaden blanket draped over me at the dentist’s office. Stifling.

This day in April, we gathered once again around the large dining table. Two people were missing, but then again, maybe not. The energy was happy, electric and time had healed us somewhat. … And although the seating arrangement had changed, we all had a place at the table.

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