What’s your favorite funeral food recipe?
Until my dad died, I thought the thing about people bringing food for a death was something that happened only in books.
But only hours after he died, in a hospital 35 miles away from his hometown, a place he hadn’t lived in 44 years, people started showing up at my grandmother’s house with food.
That’s when I got it.
It’s how you share the burden. It’s how you acknowledge – in a material way – that something has happened. It’s how you go beyond words to comfort.
I didn’t see this behavior modeled when I was a kid. Neither did Mr T.
But the reason I didn’t see it modeled was because I grew up on air force bases where you don’t see death. My dad even commented that that was one of the disadvantages of rearing children in that environment as opposed to the one he and my mom grew up in – that we weren’t around old people and we didn’t get a chance to see that death was a normal part of life.
Mr T didn’t see it modeled because his parents had no social graces. “They didn’t belong to a church,” he said.
“But they had neighbors!” I answered. “Surely there were deaths in the neighborhood!”
(His parents also did not teach him to write thank-you notes.)
This book, y’all. My friend Kim gave it to me and it’s amazing.
Even in the days preceding my dad’s death, when my mom, my brother, my sister, and I were staying at the hospital hospice with him, my aunts and uncles and cousins took turns driving that 70-mile round trip every day to bring us meals.
Yes, there are restaurants in the city where the hospital is and yes, there was a kitchen in the hospice, but going out to eat and cooking are the last things on your mind when you are watching the slow death of someone you love.
I didn’t know then, but I sure know now. And ever since then, I have shown up with food.
I thought this knowledge was universal.
At least, I thought that by the time people reached full adulthood, it was known. It was known that this is What Is Done.
But last week, when my neighbor’s mother died, nobody else showed up.
My neighbor – who is also a friend – has lived in this town her entire life.
Her mom had lived here most of her adult life, I think.
My friend had been taking care of her mom these past few months and writing about it online, so her friends knew that her mom was ill.
My friend has also been very open about the challenges her family has faced with a child’s mental illness this past year.
Basically, any of my neighbor’s friends online know about what’s been going on with her and know that her mom died last week.
But when my friend thanked me online for bringing a meal over, I was the only one she thanked.
And all I did was make soup, bread, and brownies.
I cannot be the only one who took food over.
Can I? Maybe she has a ton of friends who aren’t online who showed up?
I’m not trying to brag. Because I didn’t do anything noteworthy. I did the bare minimum, actually. I certainly didn’t do anything big enough to be praised online for.
Where were her other friends?
Why didn’t anyone else take food?
And it’s not even like they have to cook – they could stop by the grocery store to pick up something hot from the deli or order a pizza.
Maybe they just don’t know?
Maybe everyone is so busy and so traumatized with all the other stuff going on that it didn’t occur to them? The past few years have been hard.
I think that’s the kinder interpretation.
That’s the one I’m going with.