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River Town Chronicles: Mourning the microwave

Stages of grief overwhelm after the death of a beloved appliance

They say you don’t know how much you love someone until they’re gone. They’re right, whoever “they” are (the Baby Boomers after The Beatles broke up?), because the day our microwave died, I grieved.

I was home sick from school. I’d brought my CD player downstairs and plugged it into a kitchen outlet to listen to a recorded book. When I pushed the ON button, the machine didn’t respond. Worse still, the landline phone no longer lit up, and the stove’s clock went dark.

I vaguely remembered where the house hid the fuse box like a wall safe, but looking inside revealed nothing except a gorgeous lacework of spider webs. Next, I pushed every red, then black, doo-hickey (the electrician’s technical term) on each electrical outlet. When the phone’s and stove’s displays lit up, I relaxed.

I didn’t notice the microwave’s clock was still dark until opening its door, setting inside a bowl of soup, and requesting a two-minute warming. Instead of the expected HUMMMMMMM, I got the silent treatment.

“No, no!” I screamed inwardly. “Don’t leave me with just the stove. It burns, it scalds, it blackens!”

I climbed on a chair (don’t do this at home, kids) and opened the cabinet overhead. There coiled the offending cord, thick, gray, brawny. “Just like a computer,” I surmised. “Doesn’t work? Shut it down and start it up again.”

I unplugged its lifeline with the same care Dave gave to shutting down HAL, then plugged it back in. I felt happy as an EMT using a defibrillator on a patient with cardiac arrest; I’d be its hero, the one who resurrected it from the dark beyond.

Stepping off the chair, I stared at the rectangular space where the time should have blinked “12:00.” Blank. Squat. Nada.

The microwave was dead. Either I’d killed it by plugging in the CD player, or it simply gave up to planned obsolescence.

My five stages of grief began immediately. First I refused to accept its death, habitually opening the door and putting in plates, cups, and bowls, denying the loss, believing in its ability to miraculously regenerate.

Denial turned to anger. “I hate you!” my soul cried, tormented by and furious at the five-year-old’s death (I checked the receipt), its black glass face turning into Darth Vader’s mask.

Then I thought, why fight it? “Hey,” I crooned, “if you give me another five minutes, long enough to heat some chicken soup and leftover Chinese, I won’t tell my wife you were sleeping on the job.”

When bargaining failed, depression draped me in her suffocating cape. “It’s no use,” I told the dog. “I’ve failed. I’m no good. And I’m starving.”

At that moment of deepest despair, I looked at the stove and its four burners. Hope of heat after all! The microwave might be gone forever, but the promise of pre-cooked bacon frying in its own fat replaced it.

The possibilities were endless.

But I made a note to call … let’s see … who’s got a sale on microwaves?

Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches at Marmion Academy, and moderates a writing workshop. His fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in numerous literary journals. Contact him at

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