Reesie’s Brownies for Dave

It had been a year since my brother died.
We made it past the first holidays, a graduation, his birthday and numerous other memorable occasions that made us tearful and provided reason to get together.  It had taken a year to decide what should be done with the ashes so the anniversary brought us together once again to celebrate the life of my Brother Dave.

I thought it would be different.
I thought that after a year the grief that gripped my heart and reduced me to breathless sobs would have been released and I would look at my brother’s photos with joy, savoring the memories.  I thought that after a year the pain in my mother’s eyes that masked her sparkle and protected her soul would be lifted and she could once again smile with her whole self.  I thought my younger sister would release herself from the sadness and realize that she was stronger than the loss.  I thought we would all move on with our lives and gently place Brother Dave in our hearts where he belonged.

Teenage Dave.

Teenage Dave.

Two months prior to the anniversary, Mom and I were talking on the phone and she suddenly said, “It has been really hard lately.”  She could have been reading my mind.  I had been feeling pretty good in the months prior, talking happily with strong words about my brother, only occasionally pausing for a quick cry when I was alone.  But as we closed in on the one year mark, the grief came flooding back and the binding force on my heart came back with a new fierceness.  I had been feeling so, so sad.  In a conversation with my sister shortly after, she too confessed that her grief had suddenly amplified.

We were all feeling a recurrence, and all at the same time.  For months we felt it had been getting better and then we were slammed back to the reality that he was gone.  We had speculations….we were too much in shock to fully grieve at first; the season of his death was bringing up thoughts of our last days with him; the anniversary–the date on the calendar—was looming ahead of us like a dreaded medical appointment.

imagesI came to the conclusion that the sudden return of grief was because Brother Dave realized it was time to leave us.  He always liked being the center of attention and he had had quite a year.  He wasn’t ready for the party to be over.  I just have to believe it was him, trying to get every last minute of the bond that that first year brings.  When someone close to you dies, it seems that the initial year following the death allows for a tight connection to the person as you mourn every memory.  After the anniversary, there is a magical release.  You surrender the person from your life and place them in your soul where they can live forever.  Leave it to Dave to make sure we didn’t place him there a minute too soon.

My sister-in-law Shari was hosting a big weekend gathering for the anniversary and spreading of the ashes.  The first night was a family dinner for thirty and on the actual day, there would be a short ceremony on the water to spread the ashes, followed by lunch for the closest friends and family.  Brother Dave loved the ocean, loved boats and years prior had fulfilled his dream of having a house by the harbor in Santa Cruz, California.  It was the perfect occasion to honor and celebrate him.

Santa Cruz Harbor.

Santa Cruz Harbor.

A few days before the events began, Shari asked if I could bring a dessert.
She didn’t specify what it should be so I started thinking of what to make.  I decided it should be easy to eat without plates and silverware but cookies didn’t seem quite right.  I didn’t really know if Dave had a favorite dessert but my mind kept going to chocolate, maybe something with chocolate and nuts.

I had just returned home from a trip back East so the fridge was mostly bare and I wasn’t finding what I needed for the recipes I was contemplating.  Too lazy to go to the store, I worked off of a few ideas and concocted something that I thought most people would like.  It ended up tasting like a modern version of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

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And then it hit me….my family loved Reese’s.  I knew it was a favorite for Mom and me but I couldn’t quite recall if my brother was also fighting us for them.  When I arrived to the house, dessert in hand, the first person I saw was my lovely niece Jessie.  I asked her, “Did your Dad like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?”  She smiled and laughed.  “He loved them.  Remember…he called them Reesie’s?  We have a whole jar of them for this weekend.”

I had forgotten all about “Reesie’s”.
We all called them that.  I think Mom must have started it, or maybe the kids did and mom just adopted the name.  Either way, I don’t know how I could have forgotten, but Brother Dave obviously didn’t and he reminded me that he wanted Reesie’s for his party.  Everyone loved the brownies and when they asked where I got the recipe I told them, “I was just channeling Dave.”

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“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” – Aeschylus

*****

Reesie’s Brownies for Dave

2 boxes Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix
Make according to directions, or use any brownie recipe to make two 8” x 8” pans of soft, rich brownies.  Cool completely.  Remove from pan as whole cakes and then return to pan.

Peanut Butter Frosting:
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp sour cream
1 tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Cream together peanut butter and butter with an electric mixer until smooth.  Slowly beat in powdered sugar, salt and nutmeg.  Add sour cream, milk and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Spread frosting over cooled brownies all the way to sides of pan.

 Chocolate topping:
7 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp nice quality flake salt like fleur de sel

 Melt chocolate and butter slowly in small heatproof bowl placed on top of saucepan of water on stove, stirring frequently until completely melted and smooth.  Turn off heat and leave on stove until ready to use. (This can be done in microwave.  Heat for short periods, mixing well after each time until completely smooth.)

Cool chocolate until slightly warm but not hot, spread over top of peanut butter frosting in pan, covering all the way to the edges.  Sprinkle generously with salt.  Refrigerate until hard.  Cut into squares and serve at room temperature.

 *****

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20 comments

  1. Dear, Dear Cynthia ,
    What an incredibly beautiful and powerful post, written in such a way that I feel as though we were together, talking. Your words so eloquently describe the grief experience.
    Sending you and your family an immense amount of love.
    Hollye

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  2. Thank you Hollye. 2 years today….I miss him.

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  3. bruce Spivey · · Reply

    Cynthia,
    Really lovely–touching, cute and so thoughtfully involving.
    Bruce

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    1. Thank you Bruce. Means a lot. xo

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  4. Maili Halme · · Reply

    You so accurately and beautifully described the grief experience. My heart is tight with feeling your pain. My deepest love to all of your family. Maili

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    1. Thank you Maili. xo

      Like

  5. Christine Lark · · Reply

    Cynthia,
    What a beautiful story, and tribute. Your brother must have been a very special man.
    I can so relate to your feeling of grief. It has been 2 years since I lost my Dad, but I feel him around me more now than ever, and that has lessened the sadness.
    Keep up the blogs, you have a gift.
    Chris

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    1. Thank you Chris…really appreciate the support. xo

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  6. Susan Adler Sobol · · Reply

    Very poignant. Had me in tears. I’m so sorry for your loss, Cynthia. Susan

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    1. Thank you Susan. And thank you for reading! xo

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  7. Ned McIver · · Reply

    Cindy,

    What a beautiful and eloquent expression of the process we go through after the loss of a loved one. I think of Dave often as I ride my bike through the Rosegarden neighborhoods and see all of Dave’s creations and talents in full bloom.

    Thinking of Dave and all of the loved ones left behind today and always.

    Ned McIver

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    1. Thanks Ned. I appreciate the kind words.

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  8. Mary Kenter Raffanti · · Reply

    Cynthia…it’s Mary Kenter here, and I feel so honored to be allowed to read that special note from you to Dave, and to the rest of us. Today is Dave’s second year anniversary, but the reality is that every day is filled with deep thoughts of the important people who have gone before us. I went out to dinner the other night with a few old friends from the Rose Garden (Rez and Tom Zolezzi, and Ned McIver), and of course, Dave’s name came up. One of my oldest memories of Dave is when I was about 12 years old and your family lived a few houses away from me on Emory St. Dave ordered a car kit (a Porsche, I think), and built it from scratch, with a little help from your Dad. He painted it red, it was beautiful really, and he was the envy of all his friends! He went on to build many more incredible things, as we know, and had the heart of an artist. I learned a lot just hanging out with Dave. I think of your wonderful family often, and today I give special thanks to Dave for sharing his life with us. I may have to go eat a Reesie’s!

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  9. Hi Mary, Thank you for reading. You have reminded me that those memories do live on forever. I have very clear memories of visiting your brother in his room at Emory Street and also of your mom saying that she wanted us to always remember him riding his bicycle through the neighborhood, smiling, with his baseball cap on backwards. I was so young then but I have thought about that often throughout my life 🙂

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  10. MaryAnne · · Reply

    Soulful Cynthia,

    What a lovely tribute to Dave and to all who love him. My arms wrap around you as I feel the depth of your loss of your beloved brother.

    Dang you though….now all I can think of is Reesie’s….But in honor of Dave, I think I’m obliged to indulge. Right?

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    1. Thank you MaryAnne…and yes…you must have a Reesie’s in his honor…but you might as well make a batch of my salted reesie’s brownies to really do it right!

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  11. Oh Cynthia, I’m so sorry for your pain, for your loss. I’m saving your recipe, and will think of Dave when I bake it.

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  12. Thank you Kate. I am still laughing about your story of him driving you to the hospital 🙂 The memories definitely keep him alive! xo

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  13. John Aiassa · · Reply

    Cindy, I understand your grief more than you know but understand that life’s chalanges are also life lessons. Your memories of Dave should never leave you as a matter of fact I hope they continue to grow with pleasure. It may seem hard to understand but your brother helped mold you and your way of life more than you know! It’s funny but just last night I walk into Nicks resturant and sat a the end of the bar which I never had done before last night. I looked up to my right and saw a picture of Dave and he smiled at me and it made me think of him and all the great memories I have of him and his life! Great guy, funny guy, humanitarian and wonderful friend. We all loved him.
    If you ever need to talk and share stories please do hestitate to reach out. It healthy to share and Dave would feel honored!

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    1. Thanks John. I love that photo of Dave at Nick’s!

      Like

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