The ingredients vary, depending on the time you put aside and the courage you have to prepare.
But, the main ingredient that no grief casserole ever does without is an abundance of love.
For me, it was as if my mom was in some sort of boxing match - Blow after blow ... A series of mini-strokes, congestive heart failure, diabetes, renal failure, lung cancer, wound care clinics, dementia, short-term memory loss ... How much can on woman endure? Yet, she took every blow with resistance and sheer determination to rise up with her fighting spirit.
I was caught up at the time with my life. You know, caught up being a mother, wife, working a full-time job in the death industry. Every blow she took hit us like a hammer. Blow, after blow, the hits just kept coming! Sometimes in life, you have a choice to make, and sometimes, not at all. The choice was made to move in together, and I tried so hard to keep all the balls in the air. I felt like such a failure as I watched each ball, one by one, fall to the ground. I eventually left my full time job to be a full time care giver. Getting through each day stripped me of my energy and focus.
The never ending meetings with an array of doctors and specialist; the challenges of medical decisions to make, keeping up with the daily doses of medication, changing of sheets, doctoring of wounds, the smells, and special diets. The frustration I felt as she would sneak cookies and candies that no diabetic has on their diet. The reprimands from family members who thought I wasn't doing enough, and the resentment that followed. The side effects of the medications was another challenge. I no longer recognized the life I once had, and no, there was no going back to normal. We were all in our own wasteland of loss. We were all losing at it.
My mom felt so guilty for getting sick. She felt like she had become a burden to me and the family. No matter how many times we tried to assure her she wasn't, she became more isolated. She never wanted to leave her room and the depression was beginning to show on all of us. Eleven years of watching the roles reversing. My own children were starting to leave home and start their lives, and I no longer knew my own husband. My marriage was over and my struggle to grasp some kind of control over my life finally led me to the end of myself. I no longer recognized the woman staring back at me in the mirror. My hair was falling out, dark circles under my eyes that no amount of concealer could cover, and I looked like a skeleton.
I was in desperate need of some time to try to at least try to rediscover what peace felt like. Yet all I wanted to do is be there by her side. I drove her to my sister's house and the deafening silence between made my ears ring. We were both experiencing the struggle of holding on and the exhaustion it left behind. I guess you could say we were both at a loss. A loss of words, a loss of control, a loss of health, a loss of direction, a loss of knowing what to do and a loss of what the future might hold.
Loss. What a concept! Nobody teaches us about loss and we are all in a desperate need of doing loss differently. Loss is a thread that is woven throughout our lives! It's everywhere. Loss comes in such a variety of ways when you stop long enough to think about it. How many of you have ever experienced the loss of a beloved pet? Lost a job? Lost a close friendship or two? Lost someone you loved so much to death? It's evident to love is to lose. There's no escaping loss - Not our own loss or other people's loss. Let's face it, we do loss pretty badly.
So let's do loss differently. Lets face it, we don't know what to do and say when someone we know and care for is going through deep grief. We just want to get through it, and get away from it. It's uncomfortable. As soon as our lives go back to normal, and the crisis is over, we don't want to think about loss at all. I mean, why would we? But have you ever asked yourself what are the consequences of doing loss so poorly? Have you ever paid attention to someone who is in that deep valley of grief, alone, afraid, and feeling completely lost? We are taught to isolate, grieve alone, have a drink, be strong, give it time, replace the loss somehow...Seriously?
Among other things, we sleep to avoid feeling the pain that loss has left us with. That emptiness of having a love and nowhere to put it. I know with my mother's illness and eventually her death, I felt like I was in some sort of vacuum or submerged in water, struggling to come up and catch my breath. The people close to me, going MIA. A lot of silence. Giving me space. Space? I am going through the hardest thing I've ever been through and you're giving me space? I literally lost count of the people who approached me and said, "I really wanted to be in touch. I know you've been going through a hard time with your mom, but I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to do and I didn't want to bring it up and make it worse." Bring it up? It was UP! Make it worse? There's no way you could have made it worse!
Can I share my heart and confess that back before my mom died, I didn't know what to say, or what to do either. I wrestled with the thoughts of, should I call? Should I email or text? Should I just drop in and pay a visit? Then I would hear that voice inside my head question every single effort. So I did like many of us do. I did nothing. I gave them their space. Not realizing how overwhelmed and chaotic their life had become. I wanted to be helpful, I really did; but the awkwardness of saying or doing the wrong thing kept me silent and distant. No action at all. I didn't want to make a bad situation worse.
So, I get it. But let me tell you something, you see, when the funeral service was over and I was looking through all the cards and reading those sweet sentiments. You know what I'm talking about - "Thinking of you." "Praying for you." "Here for you." As much as the expressions on paper touched me during that moment of time, NOTHING meant more than that casserole in the brown paper sack that was dropped off at the house. To realize there was no note as to whom prepared it, wrapped it, delivered it. It simply wreaked of love.
You see, love is action. So I encourage you to send that text and say, "I am just thinking of you and wanted to say I love you. No reply needed."
Even in the middle of my mom's illness, when I was quarter-backing her care, driving her to the hospital, assisting her with the array of doctor appointments, week after week, administering her insulin shot every day, along with the twenty-two pills that were required to keep a golden heart beating, and the inhaler that allowed her to breathe a little easier; I knew everything about there that was to know about her medical and emotional state, I still didn't know what to say to my own mother.
I was scared and she was so brave. We were approaching her final days and little did I know at the time, she was teaching me how to die. I wish she could have taught me more about saying goodbye. Neither of us knew when the date or time that death would arrive. We both were desperate for the one thing all grievers so desperately need - Relief.
So when you come upon someone who finds themselves in that dark, desolate wasteland of grief, put you love into action. Show up and drop off their dry cleaning. Take their children to the park to play. Clean their kitchen or mow their yard. Run the vacuum or run an errand. This will give the the gift of peace they so desperately need during this difficult time.
Oh! And above all else, make or buy that casserole and drop it off. They can eat it right away, put in the fridge or freeze it for later. A word to ponder - "Remember that time, when you dropped off that casserole after my mom's funeral? I hated that!" Said, NO ONE EVER!!
All I am saying is find the courage to show up for your grieving friend or family member. It might feel awkward like you're going to get it wrong, but risk getting it wrong. Don't dwell on the voices of doubt in your head. Just pick something and do it. Don't fall into silence. Don't be absent from their lives. Stop thinking about it and just act. Your grieving friend needs you now.
No, you can't fix their broken marriage so it doesn't fall apart. No, you can't change what they are going through - it's their journey, not yours. No, you can't bring back the person that died. No, you cannot take their grief. But you can show up for them in a real way that doesn't put the burden on them by saying, "Call me if you need anything." They'll never have the strength to make that call.
Loss is all around us. We all know someone who's going something tough right now. Go say something to them. Do something for them. Maybe even something as intrusive as dropping off that casserole.
From my heart to yours,
Kim - a.k.a. The Grief Lady.