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On Monday evenings, I facilitate an online bereavement group. The singular hour spent is a gift of healing space, yet I feel I receive more than I give. I’ve written about sharing food with those grieving and how it brings comfort. My group reminded me that food does not always bring comfort. Especially when hungry for beating hearts, holding hands, 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 refers to this idea often, reflecting on how it was to look up from her table and see her husband dead in the adjacent room. Throughout Didion’s telling of her first year of grieving, food plays a central role.

During the grieving process, the bereaved speak of a changing food relationship. Alan Wolfelt wrote in Healing Your Grieving Body, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” So it makes sense when we are grieving the loss of love, food becomes an integral part of our grief.

Grief makes it hard to go into the kitchen. The idea is crippling.

Clearing the refrigerator of their loved ones’ favorite foods and condiments, which they only liked and bought especially for them, may be immediate or delayed. Still, the poignancy of the moment doesn’t change. When the day arrives, it takes courage.

After eyeing the bottles suspiciously, condiments are removed. The bereaved opens a bottle and smells the contents, inhaling memories, exhaling grief. Some grievers check expiration dates. Others give everything an automatic heave into the trash. Memories come flooding back of the last time sharing a meal as a family or couple. Perhaps, they shudder or smile at the thought of ketchup on hotdogs or a spontaneous food fight. Mom’s last homemade pork chops now sport a furry coat yet still, the now fractured memory of how they smelled baking remains. Then there’s that “damn it” moment when found is the one item on which can be blamed the reason for all of their grief. With the full force of resentment, it’s thrown in the trash. Or maybe put back. Sliding downward, they curl up to the refrigerator.

The grieving know they should eat. Putting a bite of food into their mouth, it instantly turns to stone. They hastily spit it into the trash. Swallowing is not an option. So much for courage.

The first shopping trips alone they bypass their loved one’s favorite foods. While pushing the cart forward, they mindlessly drop items into the cart. Their foggy brain reminds them they are at least moving forward. Abruptly they stop as they realize this food is for prepping and eating. They push the cart aside and leave the store. Shopping alone is one thing, but how do you learn to eat alone? Mealtime is the most challenging time.

If you are grieving, please consider joining a support group or start one. Phone a friend. Become friends with silence for in that silence are answers.

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