March 19th, 2009


Not, it turns out, coals to Newcastle.

Last night I was talking to someone dear to me and said that family friends had been bringing food by all day. "Because otherwise you'd starve to death," she said in a fond teasing tone, because she knows what cooks and bakers we are in this family. Except--look. Grandma was eating hospital food for a month before Grandpa died. We bought milk and juice the morning after we got here, so when Grandpa died, here is what we had in the house: diminishing supply of milk. Diminishing supply of juice. Cans of stewed tomatoes. Macaroni. Three brownies and a muffin we had brought with us. Condiments.

Seriously, there were a few more things, but not much more. So we were immensely grateful when my aunt Kathy brought boiled dinner over on the night Grandpa died, we were astonishingly grateful when the neighbors brought over dinner the night after, and we have been overcome with gratitude for every single thing brought since.

Could we order out for a pizza? Sure. That would require deciding on pizza, deciding on a pizza place, etc. Could we go grocery shopping and cook? Sure, Grandma did pick up some more groceries. But every able-bodied person here is occupied all day and all evening with tasks for the memorial service and for the basic practical necessities of dealing with a death. We do not have time, and we do not have energy--for making food or for deciding on it. I can't speak for Mom and Grandma, but I am at the stage where if I didn't eat what was put in front of me, I might well not eat; if someone was trying to be nice and said, "What would you like?", I would stare blankly at them, because what I would like is so far disconnected from food that the question feels ridiculous.

So please, for heaven's sake, do not decide that the tradition of taking food to grieving families is old-fashioned and silly, and do not decide not to do it if the grieving family is composed of more avid bakers or cooks than you are. We have gotten some wonderful things from friends and neighbors, but it turns out that I don't care that they're wonderful. I care that they are hot and in front of me and do not require me to make choices. Wonderful is a bonus. We are mostly all eating the same thing, because it's easier to just take one hotdish out of the fridge and one salad and use them up before they go bad and take another thing out of the freezer when it's called for. Sorting through to choose who likes this and who would prefer that is not something any of us has emotional energy for at the moment. We decided which hotdish to eat last night by noting which one was still hot. We will probably decide on lunch by picking up the thing that is on the top of the stack in the fridge and dishing out servings for each of us.

Also, do not be paralyzed by not knowing whether there are allergies or dietary concerns. In many cases, the grieving family will be feeding relatives and friends who have dropped by or come in from out of town. My mother is allergic to walnuts. It's entirely possible that some of the bars people brought us have walnuts in. Mom is being careful about that, and the potentially walnut-endowed stuff will get eaten by someone else. I promise. Of course if you know that someone has a gluten intolerance or is allergic to onions or doesn't eat meat, you should tailor what you bring to that. But not knowing is not a reason for not doing.

Finally, if you realio trulio do not cook or bake, bring something boughten, or bring paper goods. One of my parents' best friends brought paper plates, plastic cups, plastic cutlery. This is good. We don't have to worry about running the dishwasher in the middle of people's condolence calls. One of the neighbors brought a boughten veggie dip and veggie tray. Did we disdain this for not being homemade, for not taking great amounts of work? No, we fell upon it with grateful cries. It was fresh food, and we did not have to work to get it, and that's what's called for right now.