Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. Hippocrates
Last Monday, as I sat in my therapist’s office, I was feeling impatient. Five months after my father’s suicide, I don’t feel better. It is like trudging through quicksand, day by day, this journey through grief. Don’t get me wrong, I laugh, I smile, I spend my days in the land of the living. But my heart, my soul, what lies beneath the surface, is still riddled with pain.
I try to follow the loving advice I am given. I do.
“Be kind to yourself.”
“Be patient with yourself.’
Not easy, since anyone who knows me, knows that patience is often not a virtue I possess in great quantity. Still, I do try.
It’s hard, I tell my therapist. I don’t feel like me. At least I don’t feel like the me I was before.
Before the call.
Before the words.
Before my father’s suicide.
I do know that I will never be that person again. When trauma storms into your life and leaves behind an epic and chaotic aftermath of pain, shock, overwhelming grief, destruction and despair, you can’t emerge from it unscathed, unchanged, unaltered. Like the images of wreckage we see on our television screens, when Mother Nature unleashes her fury, so to it is with suicide.
It is hard, uncomfortable, challenging, when who we are in the world is not who we want to be. It’s like wearing clothes that are two sizes too big, or shoes that are too small. It doesn’t fit.
What I want is to feel better, to not hurt anymore, to not feel like there is a brick that lays upon my heart each and every day. I want to fast forward to the part where healing takes place. Where I can emerge as a me that doesn’t hurt on a daily basis. I want to sprint ahead to the finish line, even though I know no such line even exists. There is no endpoint to this process. The journey will change, the ebb and flow of the tide will, I pray, dull the edges of the pain. But, as my very wise therapist said to me, you never make peace with this kind of loss. You will never accept it. You will never be okay with it. How could you? She’s right. No, one day, she tells me, you simply learn how to live with it.
It gives me comfort too when she puts my loss into a perspective that I can better understand. She calls it, turning the crystal. Traumatic loss is like oil and water, she explains to me. The water, the under layer, is the sense of sadness, loss and grief that you would feel no matter the circumstances. If my father had lived to a ripe old age and died of natural causes, I would still miss him, cry for him, yearn for his presence on earth, mourn his absence and struggle with the finality of his being gone. But suicide loss, puts a top layer of trauma, oil over the grief. That is the layer that demands your attention in the aftermath. That is the layer that keeps you up at night, pulls and pushes at you, taking all of your energy, weighing you down with the unanswerable questions, the regret, the inability to make sense out of something so utterly senseless. Five months in, she tells me, I am still dealing with that top layer. That is a long and hard journey. We’ve not even begun to get deep into it after five months. No, we are still skimming the surface, and we’ve surely not even begun to permeate the grief that I must grapple with as well.
This journey, where I stand now in the acute stages of traumatic loss, is the hardest one I’ve ever had to take. And I feel like I follow a frustrating rhythm…
One step forward
Two steps back
I feel like I am stuck, despite my best efforts to keep on moving.
And so my therapist asked me a simple question. What is one thing you were not able to do when your father died, that you are now able to do again? I thought for a moment, and the answer came; cooking.
Prior to my father’s death, my Facebook page was often filled with the healthy, delicious, culinary adventures of my time in the kitchen. I loved to cook. I did it with great passion, allowing my creativity to flow, deeply immersed in the meditative process that cooking is to me. Serving up healthy, wholesome and tasty food to those that I love most in this world, filled me up.
But when my father died, that changed. I walked through most days in a fog. I ate what people put in front of me, but I didn’t really taste anything. I ate, because I knew that I needed to; no more and no less. The meals prepared by others were a godsend to my family. And when they stopped, I stood in the kitchen and looked at my folders full of recipes, the books that lined my shelf, the pantry full of ingredients and I felt overwhelmed. I cried. I couldn’t do it. It felt too hard.
After a few weeks had passed, I began to try again. Before I could produce a four course meal with ease, but now I aimed simply to complete one recipe. One recipe that would allow me to feed my precious family. But I felt no joy in it. I cooked from necessity, and because I needed to. I took no photos, shared no recipes, took no pride in what I put on the plate. Cooking, something once so full of passion for me, became simply a means to an end.
So, as I contemplated that question, I thought about arriving in Colorado. Once again, so blessed to be fed by others in our new community. I was now doubly overwhelmed, dealing in the midst of such profound trauma & grief, with a move across the country. But a few weeks later, when my children arrived in Colorado; the dishes all unpacked, the meals no longer being delivered, the cooking once again resumed.
It still felt robotic. The utensils felt heavy in my hand, the recipes felt strange to me. The confidence I once had in my ability to tweak, change or adapt a recipe was gone. If I could not follow it line by line, I did not cook it. On top of that, I had new elements to contend with; the altitude and the electric oven only furthered my reluctance.
But here’s the thing….
Now, five months after my father’s suicide, I have rekindled my passion for food & cooking. My Facebook page is filled with photos of what I’ve created, recipes I’ve tweaked and healthy, wholesome tips that I offer to my friends. I’ve mastered the electric oven, adapted for altitude, and I have rediscovered the, “Joy of Cooking.” I don’t know exactly when it happened. I don’t know the turning point. I guess I simply didn’t notice the shift when it took place.
That was her very point, my very wise therapist. Sometimes we don’t notice the small healing moments that take place. Perhaps we don’t even feel them when they happen. But, she helped me to see, they are happening.
The bigger elements of healing, simply put, those are going to take a lot longer. Trudging through the quicksand of suicide loss is not going to get easier anytime soon. And, as with any recipe, you can’t skip steps or omit the important and necessary ingredients. The recipe for healing is no different. Though I wish there were a shortcut.
But in the meantime, I left knowing that some part of me had returned in these past five months. Who I will be when I emerge from this, I do not know. I pray I will be stronger, that I will find purpose & meaning in the scars I now bear. I hope the best parts of me will remain, and perhaps even be heightened by my loss. I hope one day I won’t carry so much heaviness, that I will make be able to stop asking the unanswerable questions. I hope I’ll be able to forgive God, my father, myself. I hope I’ll be able to think about my father and smile.
But for now, I’ll take some solace in the creativity of the spirit, the culinary meditation that I find in my kitchen. And I’ll be grateful for the flavor, color and ability to savor a sweet bite, that it brings to my days. Sometimes I cook with joy, sometimes I cook with tears, sometimes with wild abandon & others with controlled precision. Sometimes I cook to lose myself, sometimes I cook to find myself. Sometimes I taste the salt in my tears, sometimes I forget the bitterness. I whisk, I fold, I mix, I knead and in it, I find some healing… even if I don’t know it.