In my family, and in many families, food is an expression of love. I have many memories of big, noisy and festive family gatherings where eating was the main event. Depending on which part of the family was gathering there were Irish, German and English roasts where, let’s be honest, it was all about the potatoes, or Italian recipes many generations old. Some of my favorite food memories are of my Pop pop’s Linguine with Clams, mom’s Jewish Apple Cake and Aunt Mary’s Stuffed Cabbage.
When I interview families to begin creating Funeral Ceremonies following the death of a loved one, I always ask about the food that they loved. In return, I’ve been gifted stories about favorite recipes and memorable family gatherings. Often they’ll say, “She (or He) always made the holidays so special”. For myself, I’ve never been a big Christmassy person, much to my daughter’s disappointment. Too many expectations and a lot more on my to-do list than humanly possible to me. However, I do love to gather and well, eat. I had a sweet client last year that hired me to Doula for her in her last months who absolutely LOVED Christmas. Although her death occurred in July, her mindful caretaker set up some of her favorite Christmas decorations and we played Christmas carols for her. I believe these simple things gave her the comfort of beautiful memories. She liked to talk about the meals she would prepare. They always included pie and ice cream.
This year, before the madness of holidays began to grid-lock our free time, I decided to host my first Friendsgiving. Since the last couple of Covid years and friends spreading further apart geographically, I’ve entertained little.
I decided to do this potluck a little differently. I asked each guest to bring a dish that honored someone or honored special memories. I wasn’t sure if anyone would lean into the assignment, because I admittedly geek out about ancestral stories and rituals, but they were all in! Each guest placed their dish on the counter and filled out a card that I provided that prompted: “This dish celebrates…” Some were simple, yet powerful. One card simply said “Mother” that was attached to a dish of stuffed peppers. Another dish celebrated “my primordial past-life memories as a carnivorous hunter”. Other offerings were big, heavy pots of family comfort food created by grandmas and grandmas grandmas and a big tray of a beloved brother’s favorite cheese sticks.
Before the meal, I lit one last candle in honor of the ones that came before us and then we shared the stories that take the food from sustenance to love. There’s a poem that I often use at the end of funeral ceremonies by Merritt Malloy. He writes: “Love doesn’t die, people do. So, when all that’s left of me is love. Give me away”.
I think this is the start of a new holiday tradition. One that I can get into.