Grief Recipe Stories: Continuing Bonds Through Food

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

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Growing up, my siblings and I were picky eaters. That's probably putting it mildly. Honestly, we were like inscrutable food critics with seriously unsophisticated palates. Gosh, I'm annoyed with my younger self just thinking about it. 

My poor mother was hard-pressed to make a meal that pleased all of us. Bless her though, she tried. She tried until four of her six children went inexplicably vegetarian in the late 80s. That's when she threw in the towel.  

Obviously, she didn't stop feeding us altogether, but she did stop feeding us all together (as in the same thing at the same time). Instead, she opted to make big batches of our favorites to last us through the week. When we were hungry, a serving of this or that got reheated or–if the kid didn't like their options–they could have cereal.

I'm ashamed to say that, not only was I impossible to feed, but even as an older child I never really learned to fend for myself. My mother would have willingly taught me to cook, but I was an unambitious teenager. I could boil water and make pasta, but even here I fell short the first time I tried to use a gas stove.

Anyway, after a few semesters eating in the college dining hall, I finally gave in and asked my mother for help. Eating grilled cheese for dinner every night was taking a toll on my physical and mental health. Of course, she obliged because my mom was always willing to help her kids get organized and make plans. She was known for passing along pages of notes and lengthy letters, always handwritten on yellow legal paper, with research, to-do's, things to think about, her worries, etc.

Her solution to my particular problem was pretty cut-and-dry. She wrote down the recipes and detailed instructions for all those family favorites. The ones she used to make in bulk when I was growing up. Some were complicated but healthy (like her vegetarian chili) and some less so (like her "blushing bunny," which is tomato soup + milk + Velveeta).

I had no idea at the time that I'd treasure these recipes, well, forever. Almost 18 years later, I still keep them tucked into an old copy of "Where's Mom Now That I Need Her?". The yellow legal paper has torn, and her cursive letters have faded, so I handle them like a historian worried about preserving an ancient document. 

my mom's recipes

Honestly, I could probably remember the recipes by heart if I needed to—but I still pull them out every once in a while. Especially this time of year, as the anniversary of my mother's death draws near. I find there's nothing more soothing than spending a chilly Sunday afternoon following her handwritten instructions and finding comfort in Mom's cooking once again.

The reasons why I find this so therapeutic are layered. It isn't just about connecting with her, though that's the majority of it. I also find cooking and baking make me feel good—despite the fact that I'm terrible at both! An article about this phenomenon popped up in my Google Alerts just this morning titled 'Research Suggests Taking Up Baking Can Help You Feel Better'.

In the article, they cite research that suggests "culinary therapy" is an effective tool in coping with grief (among other findings). Well, this was just the push I needed to put out the following request, which Litsa and I have been discussing for some time.

A request for your grief recipe stories...

It's common to connect with deceased loved ones through food—whether it’s in saving handwritten recipes, cooking traditional foods at the holidays, or in fond memories of cooking together. What's Your Grief would like to explore and honor these connections by collecting and sharing your grief recipe stories.  

If you're interested in submitting a grief recipe story, read our submission guidelines here.

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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

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16 Comments on "Grief Recipe Stories: Continuing Bonds Through Food"

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  1. Sunny Kim Schoren  November 14, 2019 at 11:33 pm Reply

    My grandmother made the cutest little sugar cookies for Christmas. And there was also the Chicken Paprikash. It’s funny that my other grandmother when asked for her German potato salad recipe opened up the cupboard and pointed to a can!!!

  2. Reid Jacobs  November 5, 2019 at 2:55 pm Reply

    Oh, you’re killing me! 🙂 I am working on this same type of project for my hospice. Guess it was a good idea!

    • Eleanor Haley  November 9, 2019 at 2:21 pm Reply

      We have done many things about food, recipes, and grief over the years and it often connects with so many people! I am sure it will be a success with your hospice!

  3. laveerne  November 4, 2019 at 1:59 am Reply

    Hi I would love to have a copy of this book , need all the help i can get by myself

  4. Shawne Randlett  October 12, 2019 at 10:11 am Reply

    I am interested in submitting poem about my mother’s blueberry tea cake recipe and grieving her and honoring her through baking it, however, the recipe itself is a cherished “you have to marry into the family to get this recipe” kind of thing, no joke. I’d submit the poem but not the recipe.

  5. LaNelia Ramette  October 11, 2019 at 3:54 pm Reply

    I’m interested in submitting my grandmother’s peanut brittle recipe. I make it every Christmas for a Cookie Exchange. When I make it, I fondly remember watching her make when I was a child.

  6. Marion Cepican  October 11, 2019 at 2:07 pm Reply

    I am interested in submitting a story about my grandmother’s Lithuanian Kugelis and Virtinai recipes and my mom’s recipe for stuffing. So many family centric memories surrounding food and shared dinners.

  7. CHAINA DE LA CRUZ  October 9, 2019 at 7:42 pm Reply

    Yes, I would be interested in writing a story about my mother’s oxtail recipe she would make during any get-together and on Holidays.

  8. Carmen Myrtis-garcia  October 7, 2019 at 12:15 am Reply

    My husband’s “internationally” famous tart cherry cobbler. Buttery, tart, delicious. People raved about it.
    I have his hand written recipe.

  9. Kathleen Yutchishen  October 5, 2019 at 1:36 pm Reply

    I’m interested in submitting a story about my grandmother’s beef/vegetable soup and my husbands Maryland style crab cakes

  10. Deb Bernhardt  October 4, 2019 at 8:30 pm Reply

    My Aunt Bea’s sausage gravy
    My husband’s twice-baked potatoes
    My grandma’s apple pie
    My mom’s cranberry salad

    Food, especially food prepared to share with your loved ones, is so evocative of memories.

  11. Bee kuhlman  October 4, 2019 at 7:47 pm Reply

    My aunt Ruth taught me to make her recipe for mandelbread. When she died, the only thing I wanted was her spatula.

  12. Amanda Miles  October 3, 2019 at 1:01 pm Reply

    I might write about my son’s Thanksgiving mashed potatoes

  13. Laura  October 3, 2019 at 12:15 pm Reply

    I would be interested in writing about one of my ma’s recipes. I’m not sure which one to pick yet, I have so many. Maybe enchiladas, pumpkin cookies, butterscotch yule log, or lemon cheesecake.

  14. Dana Lundell  October 3, 2019 at 10:31 am Reply

    I am interested in submitting a story about my mom’s green chile recipe (or one of my other favorites).

  15. Sarah Ricard  October 3, 2019 at 8:26 am Reply

    I’m interested in submitting a story about my dad’s
    fudge pie.

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