Food, grief…and glimmers of hope
I recently listened to a podcast about food and grief, yep it was one of those mornings. I’d recommend you listen though. Check it out here – the Food Chain – Raw Grief. The science about what happens to our brain with grief is fascinating and it is reaffirming to hear how other people and other nations use food when grieving.
I think we could learn from those countries where people get together and feast at these times, rather than treat grief as a totally private and individual activity. For me, the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations sound a great idea. Anyway, it got me thinking about my own personal experience and how my attitude to food changed after my mum died.
Don’t worry this is not a depressing story, it is an honest one with hope. My appetite and cooking has changed, maybe forever. This is just my experience though. I have found that grief does not follow a formula and when someone close to you dies, it’s a very individual journey with no rules.
When my mum died in May 2017, I was shell-shocked looking back, I remember feeling in a parallel universe. How was the world still turning after this momentous thing had happened? I’m not sure I really tasted food for while. I did eat, I tried to keep in mind what my mum would have wanted me to be doing and I kept on going.
My initial instinct was to stop writing this food blog, I had lost my passion for it and it was not important to me anymore in the grand scheme of things. I was (and am still) writing for Now Then magazine and I didn’t want to let them down, so I talked myself into keeping that going. When it came to it, everyone else was still as they were. Food still mattered even if I had lost my enthusiasm.
There were reminders everywhere of my mum as she used to read my blog posts and advise on grammar. We would chat everyday online and share what we had had for tea. I couldn’t do that anymore. This was very hard to adjust to, if I am honest.
Food as therapy
Anyway, back to the positives, I have always found food preparation therapeutic and so I kept cooking. I enjoy making food for others and even though I was not tasting it, I took something from the process of peeling, chopping and experimenting in the kitchen.
With the radio on, I could get out of my head and as it was May time there was the abundance of fresh ingredients, daylight and glimmers of hope with the season’s growth. I made a lot of salads, made the most of herbs from the garden and maybe this all made things ‘easier’ than if someone dies in winter.
I am thankful for good friends who did come round and bring food or invite me round and cook for me. Death is a topic that can cause difficulty as people don’t know what to say. Food can speak volumes in any situation as it shows you care for someone else, if you cook for them. Even if it is beans on toast, it doesn’t have to be fancy.
Food and memories
Food is so evocative, I wrote a post a few years ago when my Nan died, as my memories of food were so strong when I thought of her. Check it out here. She made me pickled beetroot (home-grown) to take to university, she introduced us to stollen, lebkuchen and a few other German traditions as she was from Berlin. With my mum, I remember my childhood Saturday afternoons baking with her and learning to cook. I was shy as a child and was happy to find shelter in the kitchen.
As an adult when I visited my mum, I loved to cook for her and spend time in the kitchen chatting. I would give her a glass of wine, tell her to put her feet up and let me make dinner. She had Multiple Sclerosis and prepping food was tiring and difficult for her sometimes. The kitchen space was our catch up time, I loved it and when she came to Sheffield we’d do the same. We would prep food together, she would be sat at the kitchen table and we’d get some music on and maybe sing along (badly!).
I also remember the things my mum liked to eat out and her favourite treats. These included chocolate florentines, classic Magnum ice-creams, ginger biscuits and biscotti. Then there’s the food she’d always order, Veneziana pizza at Pizza Express and when meeting friends at Prezzo she’d 99% of the time have spaghetti with king prawns, spinach, tomato sauce and chilli.
Ultimately, food is important and my mum dying reaffirmed that. It is a ritual and it brings us together whatever the reason. Despite the technology, Instagram filters, we all need it and all eat, it unites us. This can be family, friends and whoever you want to your spend time with. When I was on a yoga retreat in July I was reminded about the pleasure of eating together and that was with mostly people I had just met.
Grief is weird, you don’t get through it, it still hits at times but it has shown me what is important. I take that as a positive and I still love food, I want to keep that passion and would like anyone who read this to too.
Just take a moment to think about the food that bonds you to others, the comfort food, the treat food and the other stuff around cooking that you can’t quite put your finger on why it gives you joy. I have just thought of the memory of being silly with my mum when cooking. This included sometimes singing along to Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart. I will leave you with that.