March has been a month of tears, self-care and growth. And reflection on the connection of food and love.
For my lost love Mark, food was an expression of love. He adored going to the grocery store or bakery for foods we loved. Black and white cookies for my kids, donuts for his sister’s office, potatoes for me and chocolate covered strawberries for his daughter.
When he realized I loved baked potatoes (I could eat one every day) he would drive to Texas Roadhouse to get them for me (I don’t know what they do to them - but they are frickin’ amazing).
He even got me a potato ornament for our first Christmas together.
He also loved planning meals for his family and friends. He made every meal an expression of his love for them. In the summers when he was off from work – he would make me breakfast every morning from leftovers we had in the house. I appreciated this so much as I never had anyone take the time to make sure I felt loved, nourished and nurtured before I left home each day.
It was also important to him to have just the right toast for my breakfast. One time he went to the Amish Market to get this bread I love named “Exceedingly Good Bread” (it is quite amazing). He couldn’t find it on their long and variant bread counter. Undeterred in his quest, he asked the Amish check out person,
“Do you have any of that Hell of a Good Bread?”
The lady, unfamiliar with swearing, looked shocked and surprised. Mark realized his social error and quickly apologized,
“Oh sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I just can’t remember the name of the bread.”
“Do you mean Exceedingly Good Bread?”
The woman went back to the rolling carts of yet to be wrapped baked goods and picked a warm loaf. I was using it to make eggs and toast within an hour laughing at Mark’s re-telling of the story. As a history teacher – he was an accomplished story teller.
Mark’s fatal stroke happened in the parking lot of that same Amish Market after he rushed out first thing to purchase food for our Super Bowl weekend. I found a tray of wings, meatballs, small hoagie rolls and two loafs of Exceedingly Good Bread in his car when I drove it home (after he was life flighted to University of Penn hospital).
His last act was gathering my family’s favorite foods in anticipation of the big game. I cried eating the food each of the nine nights he spent in the hospital and hospice - until he died. I felt his love in every bite.
I didn’t grow up associating love with food. My mother found cooking a burden. She tended to make the same dishes over and over. And complain about the chore.
And as I have written before (https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/08/65-of-americans-think-spanking-children-is-fine-but-does-it-leave-a-mark/) she physically and verbally abused me – after which I would seek food to feel better. Because there was no sweets or junk food in the house, I would eat peanut butter, or eat butter frosting I made.
Or make excuses to go to neighbors’ houses to raid their junk food closet. Which once discovered – and I was publicly shamed - would make the situation with my mother worse, and she would withhold food. Making its allure more enticing.
It took decades of therapy, and having and changing the pattern for my children, to realize that overeating was hurting me – and shortening my life. So, I started eating healthier and exercising. And lost over 60 pounds – most of which I have kept off.
But my relationship with food remained complicated. Until I met Mark.
When Mark cooked even the simplest dishes tasted delicious. And I think it was because love was an added ingredient
My favorite dish of his was Chicken Marsala. He would go to a local mushroom farm to select the mushrooms, so they were fresh. And he would buy the Marsala wine his dad had loved. Every time he brought the wine home he would share his father’s advice, “For cooking, get the best wine you can afford. If you wouldn’t drink it, why use it for cooking?”
I want to learn how to make Chicken Marsala so I can share Mark’s love with my friends and family on his birthday. To celebrate his life by loving and feeding them in the way that changed me.
Before I met Mark I ate more than my body needed looking for the love I never felt from my mother. Experiencing the love Mark put into the gathering and preparation of food changed this – and I am grateful. And I am trying to connect to him through memories like this, rather than sadness.
I was reminded of Mark last week while at a yoga retreat where the food was pescatarian and delicious. We could feel the caring and love in its preparation.
The experience gave me a chance to feel fully nourished once again (who knew there was such a thing as carrot meatballs and lentil bolognese), to reset my body and notice the positive changes. I feel clearer, am sleeping better and starting to physically heal from the loss of my love.
And it has made me realize that I don’t need to rely on anyone else to do show me love with food. I can show love to myself by seeking out places that make healthy food - and making and preparing it myself. Every food choice is a chance to show love - to myself.
While away, I was also exposed to new healing treatments.
One of the treatments was EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). This approach involves tapping the body in specific areas to help release stored emotions. I will write more about my experience with tapping elsewhere but have found it very helpful to releasing the trauma surrounding Mark’s sudden illness and death. As well as any related feelings of loss, guilt (at living and moving on) and sadness. If the feelings rise I feel them and tap them away. I want to learn more about this technique and maybe even become a practitioner. It could be an amazing complement for my yoga therapy and reiki practice.
While away on retreat I also had some important realizations. My daughter became ill and had to go to the hospital. As I was out of the country and between a freak snow storm and massive amounts of spring breakers hogging up the reservations – I could not get home. So, I had to rely on her friends and mine to take care of her. And then had to lean on a friend on retreat to support me while I waited yet again for doctors to tell me the fate of someone I dearly love. It all resolved, but not without sadness at missing Mark to support us.
But then the light bulb moment. I have other loving support. My friends are on my team. I don’t have to have a man - I have friends that love me. That doesn’t mean I won’t seek love again - but a man won’t be the only loving container I have. My friends can be containers too.
I sat and wrote a list of the members on my team. Not just people I know, but individuals that provide inspiration. Like Sara Bareillis, Meryl Streep and Brene Brown.
Who is on your list? Take a moment to write them down. And take a breath of gratitude for them. And maybe text the ones you know. How long has it been? (Does anyone have Meryl’s cell number – I need to catch up with her. 😊)
And being away reconfirmed how much I love writing. When I don’t have the normal beings around me to love and make me happy, I can find security and happiness in writing. When I was lonely or homesick during the retreat writing turned my mood around better than the sun, a massage or glass of wine. An important revelation. What healthy activities make you happy?
I am ending the month celebrating Easter with my kids and friends in Pittsburgh. My last two Easters were spent with Mark. My favorite memory was of the first Easter when he made lunch for his family and mine. All I remember was the macaroni and cheese he made using his mother’s recipe. All five of our children were silent while eating and experiencing the generations of love in that mac’n’cheese. It was incredible.
This year is different. Something we all need to accept.
We are celebrating by sharing loving memories of Mark and moving forward toward new adventures. Like Zander’s first college tour. Gillian, a Pitt Pathfinder, gave the tour. And we brought along our emotional support dog – Yogi Bear (see below).
Life goes on – and we are working on being healthy, loving and grateful.
Wishing you a weekend full of love and the peace that passes all understanding.