Food and the Grief Connection


BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

After the death of a loved one, many newly bereaved lose their appetite and interest in food. However food can play an important role in grief work. Food is a harbinger of memories.  Aromas often transport us to the past, providing comfort and joy in treasured remembrances.

Think about the food that connects you with your deceased loved one. Was it a special meal? Was it the meal where he or she proposed? Was it associated with a holiday? Was it a late-night snack at the kitchen table or a picnic on a beach? Take a minute and you will most likely come up with many dishes. One or two will stand out.

Of all the special dishes my mother-in-law prepared, my husband’s childhood favorite was apple pancakes. With his eyes lit and mouth-watering, he is able to describe how his mother and grandmother would carefully core an apple, thinly peel the outer layer and slice it into circles. After the batter was on the griddle his mom would place one apple slice on it and then flip it over.

A master baker recently described a simple cheesy potato recipe that her mother used to make. With tears in her eyes she recalled how this dish, more than any fancy meal or celebration, connected her with her mother.

After my dad died, I could not look at a lemon bar without tearing up. Now I smile and take a bite on his behalf.

Many bereaved share stories about duplicating their deceased loved one’s recipes. One routinely makes her aunt’s cranberry relish for Thanksgiving despite the fact that no one eats it. For her, this ritual connects her with her aunt.

In grief work, continuing bonds are the objects or events that connect us to the deceased.  Continuing bonds are dynamic. They shift and change over time. Preparing your deceased loved one’s recipe can be one way to make and find meaning in your relationship. If you’re not into cooking, simply having that tasty treat or going to a restaurant that you both frequented will provide that bond.

Appetizers, entrées and desserts that transport us to special memories can provide meaning and comfort during the grief journey.

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