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October 12, 2012 posted by Lindsay Ferrier

Grief, Cooking, and Reorganization

Grief, Cooking, and Reorganization

Several weeks after my stepmother died, I loaded up the kids and took them to spend a few days with my father in Georgia. He had been living alone since she died and I figured the house could use some grandkids to liven things up for a few days.  I also wanted to cook and freeze some meals for my dad- My brother and I had stocked his freezer with frozen dinners the week of my stepmother’s funeral and, while there’s nothing wrong with the occasional prepackaged meal I guess, I hated to think of him eating them every night. My stepmother loved to cook, so I felt pretty confident that her kitchen would have everything I needed to put some things together except for the fresh ingredients.

And I was right. Six weeks after her death, the place looked pretty much just as she had left it. The books she had been reading were still dogeared on the table beside the sofa. The notes she had written to herself remained on the refrigerator. The bracelet she had worn not long ago still sat on her nightstand. It was both comforting and disconcerting. I mean, she was just here. And yet- she was gone forever. How could this have happened?!

I tried to minimize these kinds of thoughts by staying busy that weekend, playing with the kids and taking them places in the town where I’d grown up, seeing relatives, talking to my dad, and cooking, cooking, cooking– but there were more than a few times when I’d slip off and take a few minutes in a bathroom to cry for a moment.

Preparing meals ended up being oddly therapeutic. Food was where my stepmother and I connected. We shared the same love of Southern Living recipes and always spent part of our visits together trading meal ideas and stories. Searching through her cabinets for measuring spoons and potholders and rooting through her pantry for various spices, I bonded with my stepmother, one cook to another. Details emerged from the most-used ingredients on the shelves about the types of dishes she liked to prepare. Clues about her cooking style could be deduced from the kitchen utensils she kept in the drawers nearest the stove. I didn’t feel her presence as I cooked, as much as I’d like to say I did. I didn’t feel her approval, or her scorn. Instead, I felt her absence. Deeply.

Our relationship was complex, for reasons I won’t get into out of respect for her privacy, but we had been on good terms over the last decade or so and I was hopeful that there was still time for things to get even better. I had, I have realized over the last few months, a sort of fairy tale perspective of death, one that included ample time for each of my loved ones (and eventually, for me) to grow old, realize they were dying, get their affairs in order, and have long, heartfelt conversations with all of their friends and family before taking one last deep breath and moving into the light.

My stepmother, though, got up early one morning in June, spoke to my dad, went back to sleep, and died. Just like that. There would be no time for reconciliation. Or goodbyes. No hand holding or loving looks from family as she passed from one world to another. It has been ridiculously difficult for me over the last few months to come to terms with the fact that I will never get a chance to have one final conversation, one deeply personal exit interview, with my stepmother.

Because there were some things that I still needed to say.

All of this has been running through my mind since the end of June, but it has been in fits and spurts, because I have a husband and children and a job and planes to catch and places to go and a household to run. There has been little time for grieving. And so I held myself together and I kept going and I moved on. Or so I thought.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on a purge. A major purge. I’ve torn through closets, drawers, cabinets, and boxes. I’ve filled dozens of bags with clothing, toys, books, and other odds and ends that we’ve accumulated here over the last ten years and I’ve made countless trips to Goodwill to drop everything off. I’ve moved furniture, reorganized shelves, and tried to become more mindful of what’s taking up space in my life, and whether I really need it. I have been untiring and relentless in this purge, and it took me a while to realize why I’ve felt such a deep seated need to clean up and organize and throw out and give away.

I’m grieving.

It suddenly hit me that this is how I’m attempting to come to terms with my stepmother’s death and the slap-in-the-face realization that her funeral was only the first of  what will be way too many, as loved ones begin to grow old and die and I find myself powerless to do anything about it. This is how I cope with spending a weekend in the home of a woman who had no idea when she woke up on June 27th that that day, that hour, would be her last. It struck me that weekend in a profound way that no matter how much stuff we amass in our lifetimes, no matter how precious that stuff is to us or how personal, no matter how much it cost… We can’t take it with us– whether it’s a diamond ring or a last bit of shampoo at the bottom of the bottle.

I can’t control when or how the ones I love die. And I can’t control how much time I have here on earth. I can control, though, what I leave behind.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

  • Andy

    Thanks for sharing Lindsay, so sorry for your loss.

    • suburbanturmoil

       Thanks, Andy.

    • suburbanturmoil

       Thanks, Andy.

  • Suebob

    Beautifully written and stated. There’s nothing like death to bring life into sharp focus. I remember when my sister was dying – and we knew she was going to die – seeing a lottery billboard with JACKPOT NOW $103 MILLION on it and realizing “Even if I won all that money, there’s not a damned bit of good it would do.” The things we really need in life are truly beyond price, and we never know when the conversation we have may be our last. I try to keep this in mind. Hugs to you as you mourn.

    • suburbanturmoil

       So true. I think we do become better people through all of this, so there’s that. :)

    • suburbanturmoil

       So true. I think we do become better people through all of this, so there’s that. :)

  • Raebabe3

    Powerful.  Profoundly powerful and perfectly timed (for me) it seems.  I thank you.  (My kleenex box doesn’t, but I do.)

    • suburbanturmoil

       Thank you.

    • suburbanturmoil

       Thank you.

  • amyvolskd

    Tears…Streaming down my face.  It is really hitting me as I have entered my 40’s how truly precious our time is.  When my grandfather died, he learned he had liver cancer in September and died in December, we spent those few months talking and spending time with him.  And then the hours leading up to his death we were all at his side.  Incredible sad but I did realize how truly incredible it was/is to be at the side of a loved one as they make the transition from this world to the next.  Prayers for you as you work through this grief.   

    • suburbanturmoil

       Thank you, Amy. :)

    • suburbanturmoil

       Thank you, Amy. :)

  • astanley3426@charter.net

    What a great prospective for people of all ages!  I am much, much older than you, but concur on all points.  

  • Steph. Donovan

    This post really touched me. My grandmother has been gone for many years now, but I felt that same way of connecting to her. In her last few years, I put together a cookbook of her favorite recipes for our family. The cookbook project was such a way to pay tribute to her, that it became so important to me. And, it was equally important to her…to leave her legacy. Since I’d spent most of my childhood helping her with her various recipes, when she sent me a list of them, I ended up sitting down and getting the “real” recipes from her verbally, then adding her “notes” as special additions to the cookbook. Things such as, “I got this from my best friend Louise, but we all know she got it from the back of the Crisco can,” and “I know the recipe says 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, but I dump the whole bag in…because it’s just better that way.”

    I still cook up a lot of her recipes and we can all now kind of try to have a little piece of her there at the holidays. It gives us all comfort. Great post, Lindsay…

    • suburbanturmoil

       I love that, Steph. I’ve got a family cookbook too that my mom put together and I treasure it. I also sat down with my grandmother a few months ago, made copies of all her family photos, and wrote down the stories she told me about each person on the backs of the photos. I’m SO GLAD I did this!

    • suburbanturmoil

       I love that, Steph. I’ve got a family cookbook too that my mom put together and I treasure it. I also sat down with my grandmother a few months ago, made copies of all her family photos, and wrote down the stories she told me about each person on the backs of the photos. I’m SO GLAD I did this!

  • http://www.doorbellqueen.blogspot.com Liz Miller

    What a wonderfully beautiful post. Thank you so much for writing it.

    • suburbanturmoil

       Thanks, Liz.

  • Jenn

    Thank you for sharing this. I have lost many loved ones in the last 9 years. Eight years ago, I helped care for my Grandmother in Hospice as she died from Cancer. This past November, I sat w/ my father, helped w/ his Hospice care at home, and watched the Cancer take him away. Then just a few weeks ago, I held my Grandfathers hand as he slipped away too. In between these major events, I have also lost several very close friends, who died much too young, suddenly and tragically. I’ve never come to terms w/ the built up grief, and lacked healthy coping skills. I wish I had recognized, as you have, that my grief was coming out, whether I faced it or not, as I went about life. Unfortunately I did not cope w/ it in the healthful manner you have. I am only now, starting to come to terms w/ so much grief, and learn to cope w/ it all in a healthy manner. This post touched me very deeply as I am processing so much repressed Grief, and realizing how it’s affected my live, for years as I never came to terms, or accepted losing loved ones. Thank you again, so much, for sharing this.

    • suburbanturmoil

       Thank you for being so open, Jenn! I think grief comes out in its own way and time, and it’s almost never on your timeline or schedule. I’ve just tried to be forgiving with myself over the last few months, and to get better at accepting the terms of our existence on earth.

  • libertybain

    Amen sister! My parents are {thankfully} working ont his now – getting their basement in order, so we won’t have to to that on top of grieving.  Strange that even that discussion is part of an on going exit interview.
    Love how you kept it personal and private:: that’s a mighty fine tightrope walk you soared through.

    Blessings as you continue to turn this over..

  • jasmine j

    It’s terrible when you never get to tell someone that you love everything that’s been weighing on your heart. I am deeply sorry for your loss. So touched by the relationship you shared with your step mother. I don’t hear too many positive things coming from many step daughters, but I’m sure it’s just a tough place to be in. Thank you so very much for sharing with us. Grief can take many forms and as i’ve learned, it can show up when you least expect it.

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  • Isabel @alphamom

    Lindsay, what a thoughtful and beautifully written piece.  I love your writing.  

    • suburbanturmoil

       Thank you, Isabel. :)

  • Nun2bright

    When the love of my life and I broke up, I looked around my apartment and thought, Who cares about all this stuff? The most precious thing I had is now gone. I threw out about half of what I owned. 

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  • http://www.jackandmandy.com Mandy Hornbuckle

    First of all “I didn’t feel her presence as I cooked, as much as I’d like to say I did. I didn’t feel her approval, or her scorn. Instead, I felt her absence. Deeply.” <- THIS. This this this this this. That's exactly how I feel about Sara when I see a sunset or breathe fresh air. 

    Also, I love your perspective on this, and it's truly one of the best things you can do for your family, I think. My family is STILL going through hell after my grandmother passed 2.5 years ago (!) because of legal battles and money and just, CRAP. Stupid, stupid crap. It's just so unimportant. And I remember going through a mess when my other grandmother died, clearing all kinds of stuff out of the house – I don't want my family having to do that with my stuff. Having stuff in order is a gift. Not having SO MUCH STUFF is a gift too.

    • suburbanturmoil

       The only “presence” I ever feel when someone I’m close to dies is that I always have a very vivid dream about them a few weeks after their death. I dreamed about my stepmother a few weeks after she died and we were both crying and we hugged and she said, “I’m just going to miss you all so much” and I said “It won’t be the same without you,” and then I woke up. It was disturbing and comforting at the same time. And so, so real.

      • http://www.jackandmandy.com Mandy Hornbuckle

        I do the same thing!! I usually have pretty vivid dreams anyway but when somebody dies they get REALLY vivid and they’re included a lot. Kind of a bummer when you wake up though.

  • Kevin’s Wife- Suzanne

    Visiting your blog looking for recipes of all things.  Came across this post.  Very touching.

    It was a shocking fact that you lost  your step mother in this way. 

    I’ve wondered how I will handle my grieving.  I am  caregiving for my loving husband of 15 years, in a hospice setting as the 5 year 5 month battle with kidney cancer comes to an end.  He still appears well, but his health is in a steep decline from even 6 months ago.

    I wonder how I will handle this part of life.

    Thank you for a meaningful blog post for others to read.

    Sincerely, Suzanne in Rock Falls, Illinois

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