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Musings on Anthony Bourdain, Food, and Sadness

Candles in a dark room

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

I had another blog post planned for today. But after reading about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide on Friday, I decided to write this instead.

Like many people, I thought Bourdain had everything. A career where he got to cook and eat amazing food. The respect of many. A loving girlfriend. A daughter he adored.

Which is why I, like many, were so shocked by his death. Although when I think about it, it becomes a bit less shocking. Because I remember that all too often, our culture only wants to focus on the happy and good parts of life. We’re taught to keep the sad and difficult parts in the shadows.

And we might use food us help us do this. Maybe not in the same way as Bourdain, through cooking, but in other ways.

For instance, have you ever used food to soothe or comfort yourself? If you have, is that because you don’t want to share your troubles with someone else? Maybe you don’t want to burden them… or maybe you’re worried how they’ll respond. Or that they won’t respond.

I don’t know about Bourdain, but I’ve certainly done this. After all, food is so safe. It doesn’t judge, and it’s always there.

But it can also only do so much. I know this first-hand because I remember how inadequate it was in response to a suicide much closer to home.

I got the call almost 12 years ago now, in June 2016. Hearing that my aunt Gail had committed suicide literally knocked me down. I sat on the floor, trying to make sense of it.

And I remember that when I hung up the phone, my first thought was: “Chocolate.”

In retrospect, it’s not surprising. I spent so much of my life using food to stuff down my feelings. And doesn’t chocolate make everything better?

Except it doesn’t quite work that way. Even at the time, I knew I only wanted chocolate because I needed something. I was by myself except for my cats. I had no words to articulate how I was feeling. I didn’t even know what I was feeling other than shock.

And suicide carries quite a bit of stigma. If Gail had died in an accident, I might have called a friend. But this – I didn’t know what to do with it.

Food would at least give me something to do. It would also taste good… maybe distract me from the bitter taste in my mouth.

But it wouldn’t really change anything. Not what had happened. And not how I felt.

The problem is, our society doesn’t give us good ways to handle things like this. So we’re uncomfortable with these situations. The depth and rawness of despair, depression, loss are more than we know how to handle. In ourselves and others.

So we hide the feelings, push them down. Maybe we eat… drink… do something destructive. Maybe we sob… scream… lash out.

If we’re lucky, we have someone to be there with us. Someone who will witness the depths of our pain and not turn away.

But it can be hard to find people like that. Who you can rely on to catch you when you fall. Help you stand back up. Give you a hug and sit in silence because words are meaningless.

I suspect it’s even harder for someone like Bourdain, who was constantly on the move. Always in the spotlight. Living in hotels and not with the people he loved.

My heart goes out to those people, especially his young daughter.

But it also goes out to any of you who have also struggled with intense emotions like despair, anxiety, grief, depression. Emotions that feel like a black hole, pulling you in. And you don’t know if you have anything to hold onto.

I think that’s probably how my aunt felt, although I had no idea before her death. That’s what makes these tragedies so much worse. Because you always wonder, could I have done something to stop it?

So if you find yourself in this dark place, or heading towards it, please don’t keep it inside. Reach out to people in your life. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you feel.

Or if you can’t do that for whatever reason, get those feelings out in some other way. I write. Some people use other creative outlets. You could do something physical. Let yourself cry or scream. Or call a professional for help.

On the flip side, if someone tells you about these things, it can help to remember that you’re not being asked to fix it. Just be there.

And I will say that in some cases, food can help. It doesn’t magically make things better, but sharing a meal with someone might help you feel connected. Getting a casserole or plate of cookies can remind you that someone cares. Having a meal in memory of someone you’ve lost keeps part of them with you.

I think a lot people will be having meals in memory and honor of Bourdain. Maybe even be inspired to try something new.

Personally, I’m not as food adventurous as he was. I don’t think my aunt was, either. I remember her liking things like grilled cheese sandwiches and pizza.

But I will try to remember the simple truth that we all carry our own burdens – and that those burdens become a little easier to handle when shared with friends.

HELP LINES Maine Crisis Hotline: 888-568-1112 Other Maine resources: Dial 211 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

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