ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Eating Through Grief: How I Honour Mom Through the Food She Loved

I have spent the past year trying to relive memories of Mom by re-creating her recipes in my kitchen.

Published
Life
4 min read
story-hero-img
i
Aa
Aa
Small
Aa
Medium
Aa
Large

I’ve spent a year drowning in long-distance grief, after losing my Mom to cancer, at a hospice care facility in New Zealand.

Having spent a few weeks by her side just two months before she left us, I had seen the effect it had on her from up close. I was there every morning when even a drop of coffee – the only thing she seemed to want – seemed like poison to her, and watched helplessly as the cancer ate into her savagely, day by day. Naturally, the memories that keep coming back are of those last difficult days; the haunting images from the day I was leaving – all muffled tears and pressed hands.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

There are a few other memories that surface, providing relief from time to time. Curiously, they are all about the two things I’ve associated my Mom with since I was a child: food and stories.

Moonlit nights on the terrace as she fed me dollops of fist-balled food – kai tuttu – while penciling characters out of amorphous clouds for her stories; the mellifluousness of her humming as the radio blared a morning raga and the seductive aroma of freshly brewed coffee she’d have ready for us all; rainy evenings leading to power cuts, when she’d be frying up pakoras in a pool of candlelight; birthdays and festivals when she fussed over every little detail before the food was brought to the table, tempering the gravies with a sizzle of hing, and stirring up sticky, ghee-laced desserts until the ripples in them looked like art; the umpteen lunchboxes she packed for us all, slipping in special treats every so often.

“Allow Yourself to Feel the Pain”

I have spent the past year trying to relive memories of Mom by re-creating her recipes in my kitchen.
How does one commemorate a life that impacted every member of the family in countless ways?
(Photo: iStock)

How does one cope with a loss so boundless, so grim? How does one commemorate a life that impacted every member of the family in countless ways? The emptiness, the tears, the sleepless nights, the sinking feeling that nothing will ever be the same again, have all consumed me whole.

But like Uma Girish, renowned Grief Guide in Chicago, says,

The best way to honour a loved departed one is to allow yourself to feel the pain along with the love. Your grief is a by-product of your powerful and endless love for them. Viewed like that, it is not something to be ashamed of or push away.

So, one painful moment at a time, I have spent the past year trying to relive memories of Mom with friends and family, who have stood by like pillars. I have tried to re-create her recipes, to be able to get a feel for the reflection of me that filtered through her eyes when she saw me in the kitchen, taking pride in my littlest triumphs.

Food, I’ve come to realise, is a critical part of the grieving process. Uma agrees –

When people die, it is typical for neighbours to bring casseroles. I also know that a woman who is grieving the loss of her husband will probably celebrate his birthday at home by asking every invitee to bring a dish he loved. What a wonderful idea to weave the tastes and textures of grief with the celebration of a life! But many grievers also use food to self-soothe. It is the most readily available source of comfort, something that soothes you and helps you stuff your sadness.

Cooking is the Greatest Gift From Mom

For Monika Manchanda, who lost her Dad seven months ago, food is synonymous with memories and cooking is cathartic.

In our custom, on the 15th day after a loved one’s passing, we have to feed 15 pandits. I recall wanting to forget everything and immerse myself in cooking what he loved. I wanted the pandits to eat the food that he would have liked and I wanted to cook it myself. Everyone told me that I should let a caterer do it, but my heart and mind wanted something else. I made kachoris, bedmi poori, aloo ki sabji, paneer, gobhi aloo and kheer: all his favourites. I felt peaceful, satisfied, in a strange way. It was also probably the first proper meal I was able to eat since the day he left us.
I have spent the past year trying to relive memories of Mom by re-creating her recipes in my kitchen.
As I watch the pot of kootu coming up to a simmer in my little kitchen, I think of the grinding stone in her spacious one.
(Photo Courtesy: Ranjini)

For me, food is a healer, and cooking is the greatest gift I received from my Mom. As I watch the pot of kootu coming up to a simmer in my little kitchen, I think of the grinding stone in her spacious one, where she’d be hunched over, grinding fresh masalas for use in her sambar, sagu and kootu preparations, which would turn out pitch-perfect, even though she never tasted them before serving. When I see a bunch of scrunched-up lemon rinds lolling about in a tray in the fridge, I am reminded of her lemon chutney, and of sharing school lunches with my friends, who could never get enough of her pickles and chutneys.

The desire to cook and look at life with renewed fervour is so overwhelming lately that it moves me to tears. I share food with friends and family, recounting stories from Mom’s kitchen – and the bonds seem stronger. We make memories with our conversations at the dining table, and flavour them with shared laughs and tears. It strikes me that this act is sacred – one that stands as a metaphor for my Mom’s life, and one that will hold me safely in its grip.
I have spent the past year trying to relive memories of Mom by re-creating her recipes in my kitchen.
When I see a bunch of scrunched-up lemon rinds lolling about in a tray in the fridge, I am reminded of her lemon chutney.
(Photo Courtesy: Ranjini)
ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

(Ranjini is a mom, writer, teacher, head-hasher and a whole lot of other things rolled into one. She finds her chi in her little Bangalore kitchen, amid arrays of spices, frayed napkins and stainless steel kettles. She blogs at Tadka Pasta with a partner. She tweets @leftofwrite.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
Read More
×
×