Food grief sometimes overcomes me. When that happens, it hits like an ambush.
Until recently, I made this amazing Italian soup with big chunks of organic tomatoes, stir-fried turkey pepperoni, garlic, onion, olives, and Italian spices. I put up 10 jars of it and labeled them, “Italia,” because I loved the sound of the name. The blended flavors, and even just having big pots of it on the stove, worked magic for me, turning the experience into a mini vacation where I sort of found myself in Italy… The – I dunno – the freshness of the ingredients, the smells, the textures, the whole ambiance of the food – just made me happy.
But, the acid in the tomatoes became too much for me and I had to give them up. Having given up hundreds of other foods already, I didn’t think giving up the soup would be a big deal, but I was wrong. I didn’t just lose my soup. I lost my vacation, and something else…
After I gave up tomatoes, I started giving my Italia soup to my husband, and even though he loved it, he always accepted it with trepidation because he knew it was my favorite. Today he was in a hurry, so I ran to the freezer and found the last two jars. I thawed them in the microwave, poured them into a big bowl for his lunch, handed them to him, and then, BAM.
Here came the tears.
Out of nowhere.
It was the freakiest thing. I’d been out in my garden all morning, happy about Spring, happy about the sun, happy about the buds on my roses, happy about the rain that fell yesterday, and then, there I was in my kitchen bawling my eyes out in the three minutes it took for the soup to thaw. My husband felt so guilty about the soup he didn’t know quite what to do. (I insisted he eat it because it’d be a travesty to waste it.)
Grief does that. If you’ve ever lost someone you’ve loved, you get it. Something random will remind you of the loss, and out of nowhere, you get ambushed by an overwhelming sadness.
Overcoming Food Grief
Today’s soup thing threw me into full grief mode. Irrational as I felt about the meltdown, I realized later that it was because 1. part of me still turns to food for comfort, so when I have to give up one a food I feel momentarily comfortless, and 2. food grief makes me grieve over the big picture of my illnesses, not the specific thing I have to give up at the time, and 3. I didn’t have an alternative delight to replace it. It seems like I have to learn over and over again that food was never meant to be my to be my comfort, or my friend, or to solve my problems, or to be a reward. It’s just a thing. But it’s not a thing like a chair is a thing or a vase is a thing; food is a thing that I take into me and make part of me. Take that food away, and in very real sense, I have to recalibrate me. Food is uniquely and incredibly personal.
When you live every day with chronic illness, your goal is to be victorious for just that one day, and that means you have to focus on every bite you eat and take inventory of it lest you find yourself in trouble: “wait – am I really hungry? You know what you’ll do to yourself if you eat when you’re not hungry…” “you had this last month at that party and paid for it for three days afterward…” “Maybe I oughta check the label again before I eat this…” And so it goes. You always, always, always have one eye on the immediate situation and one on the big picture, so everything that happens is about both perspectives. Plus, when you have to give up a new food or you experience food grief over losing a certain kind of food, you’re hit all over again with the reality of your illness and you just have to wade through it.
The Deliberate Cure
In many cases (at least in mine), the diseases aren’t going anywhere, so I have to intentionally remember that one wonderful thing can replace another wonderful thing – after I get my wits about me and get through the sadness of letting go of the first wonderful thing. And the more I expand the virtues of the new replacement food, the better it works out. For example, I decided to grow herbs so I could make the food I can eat taste wonderful. I wanted a way to keep the herbs close to the kitchen, but we have a deck just out the door, not a yard, so I’d need a large pot or container. Years ago, a friend gave me an old wheelbarrow so I planted herbs in there and parked it just outside my back door. Now I can run out and snip off fragrant, fresh herbs whenever I want. It’s delightful to walk outside and clip a piece of lemon balm for my tea, or if I’m making soup, clip rosemary, chives, and sage. I have to mentally, deliberately, consciously switch over from the real hardships to the real joys in front of me, or else I’ll go down in a minute. Or three minutes, as was the case this morning.
As far as comfort goes, that’s God’s job. He’s the only one who can do it in a way that sticks because He’s the only one who totally understands what my life is like. That means that He knows full well what hard things are in it and He knows the wonders that are in it, so I can’t get away with lamenting long over the hard parts. It’s just not being honest to take a lopsided view of the situation. Mental and emotional integrity require that I keep an eye on both realities, even though grief bears emotions that add weight to that side of the equation. I have to add joy to the other end of it or I’ll lose my balance for sure.
As for the grief, I feel it in full color, own it, have a good cry when I need to, and then put it away and do something wonderful, or put on a funny movie, or listen to beautiful music, or spray on my favorite perfume. Deliberate joy is the key to overcoming the thing that threatens to take me down. (Note: if I’m in a flare though, the challenge becomes very different.)
As for my beloved soup Italia, since one wonderful thing can replace another wonderful thing, I now have the joy of exploring Julia Child’s cookbooks to find another recipe for soup. Better yet, I’m going to experiment and invent a new recipe for Italian soup with no tomatoes, but with extra pepperoni, olives, onions, garlic, and wonderful fresh herbs. That’ll do.
We’re always better together!