I have a personal blog and I wrote about the topic of food and cooking in October 2019. I decided to revisit it and update it as some time has passed, but similar feelings remain.
I follow several grief-related social media pages and participate in groups through Facebook and Instagram, etc. Through these accounts, I came across this article that was in the New York Times that really resonated with me.
This article tells the stories of recently widowed men and women and how cooking and dining has changed since their loss. Meal planning, cooking, and eating socially all became difficult and sources of sadness. These stories make sense. It is hard when you have spent decades eating with your partner and now they are not there to share in a meal with you. It sucks that you are no longer invited to the “couples” dinner gatherings. And, there’s no one there anymore to help share the burden of deciding on a recipe, cooking, or cleaning the dishes. Your daily life has been shifted.
The connection between food and grief is strong for me, and unfortunately, partly connected to trauma.
My life, like many people, really centers around food. Meals have always been social for me and I think about food throughout my day. Boris was in my life for 14 years before he died, so we ate a lot of meals together.
For a long time, I had not cooked an actual meal since Boris died. I made sandwiches, warmed leftovers, or made something simple like scrambled eggs, but I did not cook a full meal for about two years. Several months ago, my living situation changed abruptly and I had to move in with my parents (exciting for any 30-year-old widow!). I began helping with meals as I have been living with them and it felt okay because I was cooking for others, however, it was not easy or without some feelings of sadness.
An important note: I really do not like cooking. I find no joy in it. But Boris liked it, so usually, I would decide on the meal and buy the ingredients and he would cook the meal. Meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking were things that changed over the course of our years together but it was always a part of our life as a couple. In college, we had a few standard go-to meals because we were not very creative or skilled; I remember a lot of baked chicken, zucchini, and mashed potatoes. I also remember one year for my birthday Boris got me a small crockpot and he wrote on the card that the reason for this gift was because cooking and eating together was one of his favorite things. I don’t think we used that crockpot very much, but I will never forget that gift. Boris also told me that I made the “BEST” scrambled eggs. I am not sure if he was just saying that to make me feel like I could actually cook something or if he truly meant it, but I love him for it either way.
So, I hate cooking, but I LOVE going out to eat. I blame it on my parents, but I truly love restaurants. Boris and I ate at A LOT of restaurants. We were not very good at managing or saving money (one of us worse than the other) and restaurants were a big source of our spending (oops). One of the things I loved about Boris is that we could go to the new farm-to-table, local hip restaurant or we could just go to Arby’s (we used the hell out of those “2 can dine for $8.99” coupons in college) and we were both equally happy. He wasn’t picky and I just loved not cooking. Since COVID-19 hit, I have not eaten inside of a restaurant. It is one of the things I miss the most during the pandemic, but I have not had to think as much about missing Boris in certain restaurants, so it has an upside. Life is so weird.
Boris and I always checked in with one another each week about food–what days would we be at his house and what days would we be at mine, would we cook or eat out, did we have any events or family/friend dinners, and deciding on what to eat. There were always many text exchanges about meals each day. After April 7th, 2018 I no longer had those conversations. My food partner was suddenly gone. I hadn’t really thought of this being such a big part of my grief, but it has been. I miss my meals with Boris.
After Boris’s death, grocery stores were a source of anxiety for me for a while. I felt panicked, overwhelmed, and sad. I couldn’t parse out why it was such a trigger for me and I worked through this in therapy (more on that below), but my grief over losing my food partner was definitely part of the equation. I had no one to text, “would you rather have salad or asparagus?” or “do you have any butter at your house?” because Boris was gone.
Grocery stores held other triggers for me. First, they were often a source of stress for our relationship because there were more than a few arguments over the grocery shopping, the cooking, etc. over the years (a common thing for many relationships it seems). Boris was also employed in a Kroger pharmacy when he died, so there is an association between his work and grocery stores. Compounding this, the last two places Boris went (that I know of) the night he died were a Kroger and a Publix within a couple of miles of my house. And, Boris died in a parking lot of that Publix. This will always be hard.
The point is, my whole relationship with cooking, eating, and food was changed when I lost Boris. And, I love food! Food was (and is still) a significant source of my comfort in my grief (I kept Bruster’s ice cream in business for a while) which resulted in weight gain and unhealthy choices. A panic attack over grocery shopping is not fun.
My relationship with grocery stores and food has changed and improved over time. I can go grocery shopping without feeling my heart race or feeling upset. Now that I grocery shop for my parents, it feels less lonely. I have begun to make better food choices and find other sources of comfort. But, I still think about him as I go down the aisles and think about meals he cooked. Sometimes I still get lost in thought about how a grocery store was the last place he went. And, I have not been inside the Publix where he died since that night. I may never go into it again.
I miss arguments with Boris over meals. I miss spending too much money on eating out together. I miss eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch together while watching TV. I miss my life and my food partner.
After reading the NYT article and hearing stories from other widows/ers, I know I am not alone in my “food grief” now. I know that mealtime and meal prep can be a source of sadness for so many people who are missing their food partner.