05/16/2014 08:05 am ET Updated Jul 16, 2014

On Grief and Eating

First appeared on Food Riot by Susie Rodarme

The first funeral I ever went to was my maternal grandfather's. I was ten, maybe eleven, probably ten; I had been shielded from funerals until this point. My grandfather and I were not terribly close; my parents' divorce still had the ink drying on it, though, and it was determined that I should spend the time with my mother while she was there, though that time was mostly at the funeral home.

A ten-year-old wandering the funeral home all day is a recipe for boredom. I hate to say it that way because he was my papaw, but I didn't have enough grief in me to keep from being bored. Why I didn't have a book with me, I don't know; I only know that I spent a lot of time in the little kitchenette room, drinking foul coffee with lots of milk and sugar, and snacking endlessly on the huge amount of food that had been sent by empathetic parties. Cold cuts, mostly; stacks of cheese, roast beef, ham. I did constant drive-bys and the people in there probably weren't surprised that I was a tubby child.

The next year, my great-grandmother passed, and I remember being shocked that the abundance of food didn't show up for her that showed up for my grandfather. As an adult, it makes sense now -- my grandfather was a pastor, had been in the army and traveled a lot for work, and had many more contacts than his mother, my great-grandmother. To me, though, she was a significant figure, and I felt she had been done a little dirty. Like there should have been more of everything, more offerings of love and support, especially since you couldn't ever have gone to her house without being fed.

I also found it hard to find my bearings without a room full of food to snack on. I did not lack grief -- the shock of her passing was enough to give me nightmares for years -- but I needed a center that I had a hard time finding.

I was fortunate enough to avoid most funerals for the duration of my life up until now, with one heart-breaking exception in my teens. Then, on April 17, we lost my husband's mother. It was a strange time; we didn't want to eat, had to eat to keep going; had to figure out options that fit my picky nieces and vegetarian adults; wanted to spend time together in a rare instance of my husband and his four siblings, usually scattered from here to Peru, being all together, but felt guilty, maybe, a little, for going out.

My blood sugar was crazy because I was barely eating; I remember a particularly difficult night, forcing myself to eat trail mix over the stove and drink juice so I wouldn't crash. Chew, chew, chew. Swallow. Repeat. Exhausted by it; I could only manage a few mouthfuls, probably not enough.

After she passed, friends of the family brought over salad, lasagna, and a case of beer. The men got towards drunk. We all needed it. I drank gin and ginger ale out of a plastic cup. We went out for pizza, all of us, to be together before we would be separate again. Taking meals was a way to return to something like normal in the face of this binary change: She was with us and now she is gone, but we still have to go through the motions of life.

We drank a lot more over the next week, while we started the process of cleaning out her home. Easter happened, so we had chocolate candy. Little pastel wrappers began to pile up, and my blood sugar got crazier and I didn't really care. I gained about five pounds, probably all gin and chocolate, while I sorted through her clothing and her drawers and touched in a week all of the things that make a life. We lived off of bagels and salad because they were easy and didn't require cooking.

Now I am home and I'm trying to remember what happens in my normal eating life. We took an awkward trip to the grocery store yesterday because we have no food, save some broccoli that miraculously did not go bad. To compound matters, a squirrel or other small creature ravaged our pantry while we were gone, so we're now in the position of starting from scratch. I have to go back and get all of the things that we missed getting the first time and I'm not sure I know what I'm doing yet. It has been strange to be back in my own space after an intense, immersive time away, especially with the damage to our pantry. Do we even have salt anymore, or flour? No clue.

I suppose if I can't find my normal, I can make a new normal. We still have to do the motions. They will get easier in time.

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