Love, Loss and Condiments – Lewiston Sun Journal

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On Monday nights, I host an online grief group. The singular hour spent is a gift of healing space, yet I feel like I am receiving more than I am giving. I have written about sharing food with those who are grieving and how it brings comfort. My group reminded me that food doesn’t always bring comfort. Especially when you’re hungry for beating hearts, hand in hand and shared conversation.

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion writes: “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. She often refers to this idea, reflecting on what it was like to look up from her table and see her dead husband in the adjoining room. Throughout Didion’s account of her first year of mourning, food plays a central role.

During the grieving process, bereaved people talk about a changing food relationship. Alan Wolfelt wrote in Healing Your Grieving Body: “Food is the symbol of love when words are not enough. So it makes sense that when we mourn the loss of love, food is an integral part of our grief.

Grief makes it difficult to access the kitchen. The idea is paralyzing.

Emptying the refrigerator of loved ones’ favorite foods and condiments, which they loved and bought only for themselves, can be immediate or delayed. Yet the poignancy of the moment does not change. When the day comes, it takes courage.

After eyeing the bottles warily, the condiments are removed. The bereaved opens a bottle and smells its contents, inhaling memories, exhaling grief. Some complainants check expiration dates. Others automatically throw everything in the trash. Memories come back from the last time you shared a meal as a family or as a couple. Maybe they’re shaking or smiling at the thought of ketchup on hot dogs or a spontaneous food fight. Mom’s last homemade pork chops now sport a fur coat, but the now-fractured memory of how they smelled of being cooked remains. Then there’s that “damn” moment where the discovery is the only element on which reason can be blamed for all their grief. With all the force of resentment, he is thrown in the trash. Or maybe put back. Sliding down, they curl up to the refrigerator.

Mourners know they need to eat. By putting a bite of food in their mouth, it instantly turns to stone. They hastily spit it in the trash. Swallowing is not an option. So much for courage.

The first purchases alone, they bypass the favorite foods of their loved one. While pushing the cart forward, they mindlessly drop items into the cart. Their foggy brain reminds them that they are at least moving forward. They stop abruptly when they realize that this food is for preparation and consumption. They push the cart aside and leave the store. Shopping alone is one thing, but how do you learn to eat alone? The meal is the most difficult moment.

If you are grieving, consider joining or starting a support group. Phone a friend. Become friends with silence because in that silence are the answers.

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