My Grief Is My Oyster

Sloppy and raw, with unpredictable shapes, the loss of my father resembles one of the last special meals we shared.

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My Dad, John, was killed on August 13, 2018 in what some call a freak accident, a misfortune, an unthinkable tragedy, and what I still don’t have words for. He died on impact when a crowbar came through his windshield on an otherwise ordinary morning, and his loss hit just as hard, just as intensely, just as unforeseeably, and completely upended my life.

On July 6, a month before the accident, I was enjoying cocktails with him at Chapin’s Bayside, an off-the-beach bar in Dennis, Mass. He had just turned 63 the day beforehand where we celebrated dinner at The Oyster Company in Dennisport, sharing our excitement about my sister Molly’s upcoming wedding. My newish boyfriend at the time, Dylan, was just down the street at his family’s Cape house, texting me feverishly about how he had committed to grilling oysters but was overwhelmed and lost. He asked if I could come help. I said yes, but that I was with my dad. Dylan suggested I bring him along, and I was delighted (and a bit surprised) by the spontaneity of it all. That impromptu evening ended up meaning more than any of us who shared it could have imagined.

My dad had an incredibly unique ability to put you at ease. I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons I haven’t been able to relax since I lost him. He was lively, gregarious, and the surest, safest thing in my life. His presence was a constant source of comfort and joy for everyone in all areas of his life, even acquaintances, because he had that rare ability to connect with anyone. On that balmy evening in July, Dad walked into Dylan’s family home, a stranger in outdated New Balance running shoes and a cotton Yuengling t-shirt tucked in tightly over his firm belly, and went home as a friend later that night. 

As Dylan and I struggled to shuck oysters with a butter knife, our dads were off on a house tour, chatting about God-knows-what. Dylan’s dad, Mike, is a man of fewer words than my dad. But oddly, he was also born on July 5, 1955, and they quickly discovered strong shared values, integrity, and a knack for worrying about their kids’ 401(k)s and expiring vehicle inspection stickers.

With lots of effort and only a few minor injuries, Dylan and I shucked the oysters, slathered them in a compound butter we whipped up with lemon, garlic and hot sauce, and grilled them until bubbly. We brought them inside to find Dad chatting and laughing loudly with Dylan’s parents and sisters at their kitchen counter, beer in hand. Dylan had only met my dad briefly once or twice before, so this encounter was the most time he or any of his family ever got to spend with him. The loss of that unspent time and unfulfilled potential is overwhelming.

Laura’s father, John, and mother, Sue, celebrate his 63rd birthday

Later that fall, Dylan’s mom, trying to keep her composure, told me that that after my dad and I left that night, Mike had said, “I think we could be good friends.” It was a bittersweet and complicated thing to hear. Though that evening solidified a connection between two no-nonsense, truly good fathers, hearing that news only further reminded me that the man who became my husband and his parents, now my in-laws, would be denied the chance to develop a relationship not just with my dad, but with myself and my family as we were before he died.

Grief is sloppy and raw. Like an oyster, it takes on many unpredictable shapes. It sometimes chokes you if you don’t chew it well enough or if you try to swallow it whole. It’s fleshy and layered with acidity and bitterness and yearning and its peculiarities are profound, striking with an intensity only those who have experienced can understand. 

The secondary losses stack on top of each other as time passes. Layers as heavy as weddings, grandchildren and home purchases and as fibrous and entangled as birthdays, changing family dynamics and loss of stability and security. And though there’s no silver lining, sometimes there’s a pearl—gratefulness for chance encounters, memories and recipes to pass down. So in honor of my dad, John, here’s one of them:

Grilled Oysters with Compound Butter


2 dozen fresh oysters, shucked (try to maintain some of the liquid brine)
½ cup salted butter, at room temp
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons mild hot sauce
Juice of ½ a lemon
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper


  1. Preheat grill on high
  2. Mix butter, dill, garlic, hot sauce, lemon, salt and pepper until combined and smooth
  3. Put about ½ to 1 tablespoon of the butter onto each oyster
  4. Using an oyster grill pan (a cast iron skillet can also do the trick), carefully set each oyster down, keeping the wobbly oysters upright 
  5. Grill for 2-3 minutes, until the buttery liquid is bubbling and starting to brown

Laura Madaio is the founder of Grief Hungry, an exhaustive, curated space for grief sufferers, their stories, and the stories and recipes of their loved ones.

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