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Food and Grief

I’ve been thinking some about food and grief, and how the two are interrelated. One reason was because I recently read Love and Death by Forrest Church, when he wrote about a discussion he had with a couple whose infant daughter had died (p. 31). “’I know one thing,’ the mother added in a bright, clear voice. ‘Now, when someone I know loses a loved one, I’ll be there with a casserole and all the time in the world.’”

That, in turn, reminded me of Kate Braestrup’s Here If You Need Me, and her description of the aftermath of her husband’s death (pp. 53-54).

“A few minutes later, the door bell rang again. This time, I answered it. It was my neighbor, an elderly woman I had exchanged no more than a dozen words with in the ten years I’d lived in Thomaston. She had pot holders on her hands, which held a pan of brownies still hot from the oven, and tears were rolling down her cheeks. ‘I just heard,’ she said.

“That pan of brownies was, it later turned, the leading edge of a tsunami of food that came to my children and me, a way that did not recede for many months after Drew’s death. I didn’t know that my family and I would be fed three meals a day for weeks and weeks…. All I knew was that my neighbor was standing on the front stoop with her brownies and her tears….”

And for myself, when my aunt died by her own hand, some folks I only knew a little from church brought me cookies, because one of them had been in a similar situation.

It made me wonder, why do we have this impulse to feed one another when we’re in the throe of grief, particularly since such extreme emotions can make some of us lose our appetite? Is it just that it’s the only useful thing we can think of? Then I came across an old journal entry that offered another possibility.

On September 11, 2005 I wrote: “I want to write a little about food and Good Grief [by Lolly Winston, about a woman who becomes a widow at the age of 36 and turned to food as an outlet]. [It made] me consider… whether some of my changed relationship to food might have something to do with grief and wanting to assert life…. I’ve discovered these days that I really like to cook and bake, not only for myself but to feed other people…. Is this me wanting to remind myself that I’m alive, and wanting to share it with others?”

I still don’t know if that is any part of the reason for my enjoyment in cooking and baking and feeding others, but I like to think it might be, that this is one way for me to reconnect, to remind myself of the joys I still have, and to find even more delight in sharing them for however long I have breath.

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