02 July 2008

Post-funeral writings...

It is not socially acceptable to bring a grieving family a fifth of vodka after the death of someone close to their hearts. Neither would it be acceptable to bring them a bottle of percocet. Yet the most universally acceptable thing to do for a grieving family after sending flowers is to bring food. Casseroles, cakes, cookies, pies, fried chicken, pasta salad, roast beef, lasagna, it goes on and on.

Some people drown their sorrows in a bottle; others retreat to the pleasures of pharmaceuticals, legal or not.. In those situations, people are encouraged to seek help, to get counseling, to go to rehab (ironic? Amy Winehouse just came on my ipod…). I’ve seen it happen with a friend who never truly grieved for her mother. A year after losing her to breast cancer, my friend discovered her mom’s old painkillers. Shortly after, she found herself trying to buy vicoden online from Mexico and fortunately realized she had a problem. Thankfully the only victim of her short-lived addiction was the front of her car and an ill placed light post.

Yet here we are, not even a week out from losing the patriarch of our family, my 90-year-old grandfather, an outstanding man, a pillar of the church, a wicked sense of humor, all gone, his company never to be enjoyed on this earth again. My parent’s fridge is overflowing with food. Unbelievable amounts, all home cooked, all delicious. And this is only half of what we’ve been given, we left the rest with my grandmother and uncle. I’ve been eating my way through my grief. No one tells me to stop except my mom, who is stuffing her face just as much as I am. Hard to listen to someone who can talk the talk but not walk the walk.

Growing up, my mom made a point of never rewarding us with food, of never using food as a comfort. “You fell and skinned your knee? Sorry, no cookies, but how about we take some time to cuddle and read a few extra stories before bed.” Mom’s fierce attitude about this stemmed from her mother, the child of Polish immigrants, in a house where money was scarce, growing up during the depression. This grandma then married a Polish immigrant and lived in a Slavic neighborhood of Detroit. Somehow all these combined created a woman who raised her daughter, my mother to turn to food to soothe and comfort what ailed her. Probably didn’t help that their apartment was above a Russian bakery, too.

My mom is not the only person to grow up like this. I think a lot of ethnic cultures encourage you to eat, eat, eat when things aren’t going well. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” comes to mind. Before traveling home for grandpa’s funeral, my Jewish neighbor brought over a pizza to share for dinner. In her words, “We’re Jews. When people die, we bring food.” In Judaism there is the whole sitting shiva thing, a concept I can get into. It is a socially recognized ritual among those of that faith, where the family sits around at home for a set period of time and people come to visit, pay their respects, and bring food.

Us Protestants don’t really do that. And as evangelicals, we are firm in our beliefs that grandpa is in heaven with God, able to rejoice in His eternal presence and glory, blah blah blah. So really, the grief is only skin deep in some regards. Yet all this food is from other Christians. None to my knowledge come from any sort of ethnic background like my mom. What are we to do? Turn away their kindness, knowing that they are bestowing edibles on us out of the goodness of the hearts and their honest and true want to help alleviate our pain? Do you put in the obituary that in lieu of flowers people are to send money to a certain charity, and in lieu of food to donate to a certain soup kitchen? Or only bring sugar free and low fat recipes? Yeah…no.

It’s hard to be an emotional eater. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who can cook healthy meals, stock the fridge with fruits and vegetables, only keep whole grains in the house, and drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Yet when life gets me down, the next thing I know my car is steering itself through the Arby’s drive through and a jamocha shake and some curly fries are suddenly next to me and I can’t not shove them in my mouth fast enough.

I could probably write excellent and encouraging words telling others how to find different ways to soothe troubled minds and alleviate the pain that life sends along, but it’s so much easier said than done. Temptation is all around us, and the devil is there to make sure your friend brings fresh baked chocolate cookies to Bible study the same day you got some really rotten news at work. And of course she’s one of those skinny people, the kind who claim to not like sweets but love to bake regardless. Bitches.

“Why, God?” I find myself praying, “Why did you give me a sweet tooth and a slow metabolism and a pre-disposition for type II diabetes? Why do I struggle with my sluggish thyroid and hormones that haven’t ever worked correctly and have been worse since giving birth? Why haven’t I been able to learn to cope in some other way than with food?” God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. It’s true; it’s in the Bible somewhere. I wonder how much more He has in store for me, because my waistbands aren’t going to make it much longer.

Back to where we started. Death is hard, Christian or not. Food is an easy and universally acceptable show of friendship in tough times. I’m guilty of that, too. People have a baby or someone is ill, I’m right there with the rest signing up to bring dinner one night. Yet even when cooking for others, I find myself unable to bring something “traditional” – I cook for others like I cook for myself and my family: low carbs, extra veggies, no sugar, no fat. No one has complained yet that maybe I should be taken off that list of people willing to cook in times if crisis.

I’m not angry at these people through whose kindness have kept meal prep to a bare minimum the last few days. I’m angry with myself for not having self-control. I’m angry at society for not seeing addiction to food as a real problem. The only reason I can think of for that is because you need food to survive – you don’t need alcohol or drugs to survive no matter how much your neighborhood wino tries to convince you otherwise.

I’m angry that admitting you are an emotional eater and need a 12 step program is somehow shameful and shows a lack of character, yet admitting to a soft spot for schnapps comes off more like it wasn’t your fault, the drink made you do it. I’ve considered drowning those painful moments of life in gin and tonics instead of Ben and Jerry’s, but I think my husband would notice that. He never goes in the freezer, so that pint hidden in the back under the frozen snow peas is my little secret. Again, eating in secret? Another big red flag that I have a problem. If ice cream made you slur your words and occasionally black out, maybe it would be more recognized and accepted as something you are dealing with that is beyond your control.

I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do. How do you rid yourself of a problem you’ve had for as long as you can remember, one that has only gotten worse as you’ve come to take note of your habits more, at the urging of your therapists. Yes, therapists. Two. Three if we start marriage counseling in the near future, but that’s for another time.

I suppose the only thing I can do, the only thing I have faith in is prayer. Humble as it is, I can pray for God to give me the strength to get through this, to take away these temptations, to heal my soul so that I’m not running to the kitchen every time I find myself up against a wall. I don’t expect some magical transformation to occur, I don’t even know if I can believe that God will really change my life, my body, and my mind. But I do know He’s there to hold me up, and I guess that’s not so bad a place to start. However…if He can make the whole world in 7 days, why can’t He have made broccoli full of fat and calories and chocolate be the healthy choice instead?


Mama's Losin' It said...

I 100% believe there are some kind of addictive ingredients in some of the food we eat. At one point in my life I was eating McDonald's AT LEAST once a day. I had to have it. And I gained weight steadily. One day I decided to cut myself off. That's how I get. I get unhappy to the point where I say enough is enough and I step up the workout/eat right game.

When I cut McDonald's out I stopped craving it. Now it rarely sounds good, but when I decide to eat it I feel that pull again. It's dangerous.

It is interesting that we choose to bring food as a way of consoling each other...or celebrating each other. Why the obsession with food? Why when I plan a girls night out, do we have to go out for dinner? Why do I hate eating by myself?

I hate the way food can make us feel. How can something so little have such a huge effect on our personalities? I know how happy I am when I feel good about the way I look and I refuse to allow food to change that. It's just food. That being said I refuse to feel guilty about eating a big mac. I'd rather eat what I want to eat in sensible portions, and exercise to make up for the added calories.

You'll find your peace.

I'll be thinking of you!

Katie said...

thanks for your thoughts. it's been better since getting home, mostly because our fridge is not filled with homemade leftovers. however, it's not really filled with much of anything and i've had no desire to cook. i think a trip to trader joe's to load up on good tasting good-for-you food for the long weekend is in order. it still just sucks, you know?

Jen said...

It sucks but it is a normal, worldwide occurrence. When my dad died, I gained 50 lbs or so, for the same reasons you wrote about. I still don't have them all off (well obviously not now because I'm preggo but you know what I mean).

People bring grieving families food because when we are grieving, the second to last thing we want to do is eat. The last thing we want to do is cook. Because it is unhealthy to go without eating for too long, it is good to eat which is why people supply us with food.

Food has been used to mark special occasions since... well, forever. A feast was a Big Deal, and people would make special foods to share with one another. An effort was made. Special ingredients were used, like... salt. It showed how much you valued the company and the occasion.

When I bring people food for occasions, my standard is "what would I bring a family with a new baby?". Criteria for new-baby food gift: requires little or no prep before eating, contains lots of protein and preferably iron (for nursing, post-partum moms) and is healthy. Oh, and can be eaten for several days. Bean soup and rice, lentil stew, garlic and spinach curried lentils over rice, etc. Of course, all of the families in the neighborhood have asked me to make my "famous" (haha) potato torte instead. Hm, carb loading? I always throw in a bag of pre-washed, ready-to-eat salad mix and 6 cookies. I figure that that's not enough to get gluttonous, but enough to feel special.

Sorry for the temptation you endured... but as much as we believe that our loved ones are with God in Heaven, we are human and will feel a great void in our lives after their passing. It's there, no matter how great your faith. Cut yourself some slack, Katie. You're grieving. You're supposed to be. Your heart is aching because you loved your grandpa so much. And that is just fine. Cry for him. It shows that you had a great relationship with him, and great relationships are something to treasure. All of the happy memories will soon be so much stronger than the grief. I promise.

When you go to TJ's, pick up some of the little chocolate chip oatmeal 100-calorie packs. When you want to eat a sweet, eat one of them. I guarantee you will not feel guilty and you will be happy that you have such control over the portion.

Be hugged. I feel your pain.

"God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity" - Qur'an 2:286 (I don't know where it is in the Bible, but that's my favorite verse from the Qur'an)