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Cooking and Grief: A Meditation

Clem onojeghuo Cak L2i Mxaa U unsplash
Rustic kitchen still life with a freshly baked loaf of bread on a wooden board, a jar of preserved eggs, vintage kitchen utensils in a container, and a selection of ceramic and metal cookware on an old, well-worn table. Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash.
Mary Stadick
Mary Stadick

December 29, 2023

Most people experience the death of their mother at some point in their lives. For many, it is a deep loss. Our mother is the first person we meet, and the meeting is an intimate one. Before we are born, and throughout childhood, we rely on her for food, love, and support. My mother died at age 90 in 2022. I can only guess what it must be like to lose a mother who is a model of love and support if they exist. I did not have that relationship with my mother. She was an intelligent, outspoken woman trying to knit together a life in a community that did not often appreciate outspoken, intelligent women. As with many who live in silent frustration of talents that are not allowed to blossom, my mother was both proud of her talents and expressed frustration over the doors that were closed to her. With my father on the family farm, she raised her 4 daughters and 2 sons to strive for success, respect, and popularity.

Feeling as though I was good enough to meet her expectations, I strived to make her proud. The fabric of what might have been a nurturing and caring relationship was tattered and worn with pushing, pulling, and testing of wills. When my mother died, I grieved that we never knit a more loving relationship together. I struggled to find any common ground we might have shared. One way I dealt with this sadness and confusion was to cook. As I shopped, chopped, peeled, and seasoned, I discovered one love my mother and I shared - cooking.

My mother was an amazing cook and baker. Pork chops and mushrooms sauteed and steamed to a state of savory perfection; endless tasty casseroles or hot dishes to use the Minnesota vernacular. Salads of every stripe, from German potato salad with sweet and sour glaze to a citrus walnut salad that seemed to sing with a chorus of flavors. Stacks and stacks of cookies and cakes for the ages. No cherry pies compare with hers, made with cherries from the tree in the yard outside our farmhouse with a crust that flaked like fluttering paper in a ticker tape parade.

Standing above a cutting board in my kitchen, I realized my mother lacked the words and perhaps the confidence to articulate love, but she could bake and cook it up any old time. Every aspect of cooking is a mission, a meditation, a higher calling. Finding the best ingredients, selecting local produce, sustainably raised meat and fresh eggs whenever possible. I lived on a farm as a child, so no farmer’s market visits were needed, but I visit them now during precious, fleeting summer months.

In the chapel that is my kitchen, the vegetables are baptized, water cascading over the contours of bell peppers -red, green, and yellow, the traffic semaphores of produce. The sharp, sweet incense of freshly pressed garlic, with its glorious sizzle, meets hot olive oil in the pan. Shepherding the boiling pot of pasta or potatoes to just the right texture. Done but not too done. Still firm, but not too firm. Slicing and grating adventurous world-wandering cheeses and local delicacies, like morel mushrooms or early fall apples.

I praise the lavish treasures nature shares without hesitation, I thank the plants and the animals that have given their very selves so that I might enjoy the feast. I sing a hymn of praise to the farmers and ranchers who have raised the crops and animals I rely on to nurture body and soul.

My prayer embraces those who work in factories where food is frozen, canned, and butchered, those who load and unload trucks, and the truckers who bring it to the grocery store or market. The stockers, the clerks, and the vendors whom I rely on to purchase food. Cooking is a spiritual practice, a sacred privilege, culminating in the grand procession of home-cooked food to my table. Appreciation of wonderful food, along with the art and grace that is cooking it, are gifts my mother gave me. With this, I can wrap myself in warmth and love.

About Mary

I am a member of the League of Minnesota Poets and have had a poem published in the Cracked Walnut anthology, Rewilding Hope. Members of a local writers group sponsored by my community's Parks and Recreation Department have helped me articulate my experiences and have provided invaluable support. I strongly recommend writers' groups for anyone who is looking for a forum to share their work and grow in their storytelling journey. I do not have a personal blog. Other resources that have helped me on my journey include a meditation practice and participation in several Buddhist studies programs for more than 10 years. I regularly participate in programs through the Common Ground Meditation Center in Minneapolis. Dharma Seed has also been a helpful resource for me in exploring my journey and sharing insights in ways that can be of help to others.

Regarding my experiences with Reimagine, I learned about the group through a local resource, the End in Mind Project, shortly after my mother passed away in February 2022. Uncertain of how to deal with a cascade of emotions, I participated in a Reimagine online candlelight vigil, which was deeply healing for me. It provided a safe space that opened many places where I was feeling stuck. I have participated in Reimagine programs since then as often as I can, and am constantly inspired by the authenticity of the programs as well as the breadth and depth of information available. One that particularly stands out is the Out of Illness Comes Art program. It gave me permission to fully experience what I was feeling and tap into threads of my experiences that connect to the experiences of others. Participating in Reimagine programs releases the darkness and feelings of isolation that so often come with loss or illness.

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