May 20, 2014
It Doesn’t Matter How You Feed A Grieving Person. You Just Feed Them.
What kind of food do you make for a grieving neighbor? I posed this question to Faceborg recently, and received a boatload of great ideas.
The reason I asked is because a neighbor recently lost a parent. I don’t know this person very well, and we run into each other sporadically in the elevator. She is kind and polite, and we chat sometimes, but I didn’t want to ignore her grief. While expressing condolences, my neighbor broke down in tears. This reaction is totally normal! I’ve been there, when my father passed, and can relate to her experience. I liked the kinds of people who had the guts to acknowledge it. I doubt it was intended, but they also set a great example: have the balls to be considerate.
After listening to my neighbor, I tried to think of a way to feed her. That is what I do, right? I took suggestions from friends and picked one that sounded appropriate, and then got down to the business of making it happen. After, I signed a condolence card and wrote out the recipe. As I was writing down the ingredients and steps, I had a very gross moment of self-awareness. Was I trying to legitimately reach out to a nice person in pain, or impress her with my concern? And, was I looking for a convenient object to hang on her doorknob and run away before she started crying again? Nothing says “I sort of care” like a shitty plastic bag left in haste.
Maybe it’s not convenient; maybe we all have another thing we could be doing. Or maybe we can pull up our pants, and look after someone. I threw away the recipe – all the noise – and knocked on the woman’s door, to give her some oatmeal cookies, time and my phone number.
As it turns out, in this test kitchen experiment, anything you can make for someone in mourning is gratefully received. Whatever you make should not be a substitute for real human interaction, because that is more important. You can’t make food as a distraction from feelings, no matter how much butter you use, and it should never be served as an accessory for a doorknob. What kind of food do you make for a grieving neighbor? It isn’t about what you can make as much as it is about giving a damn.
That person feels very horrible, but you left them less alone for an a little while. In a few weeks, six months, maybe a year from now – whenever – take your new friend’s call.
Instead of a recipe, I want you to see a cool plant. It originally arrived in the mail for my father, two weeks after he died in 2009. He had ordered dwarf gladiolus bulbs the fall before he got sick. My mother made me take some back to Chicago (“Take them, don’t waste it!”). I did not garden then, but I planted his bulbs in a container. They grew and that made me want to grow more. Not just flowers, but food. Dad’s gladiolus helped me find my green thumb.
This is one of of Dad’s bulbs, and it popped up this week, the day after I visited my neighbor. I dig them up in the fall, and bring them back every spring. When there is a storm, this is the first container I carry inside from the balcony. Gladiolus spends months pushing out a few leaves and a stem, to bloom for one week in July. It takes a lot of effort for the bulbs to do this one thing. That is exactly why they are important, because people appreciate that one nice thing you can do.