What would my mother do?

What would my mother do?

This is not a conscience question. This is a food therapy question.IMG_4188

Last night I was out with girlfriends for grief therapy (a.k.a. book club night, catered to meet my immediate need to talk about my mother’s death). This is not remotely what my mother would do in the same situation.

My mother would never go out on a girls’ night for grief therapy. She would stay home and drink hot tea and eat a cookie while she read a book (that’s called food therapy to us non-nutritionists). Or she would find a table that needed refinishing and dig in to the project (that’s called creative therapy to people who love to work). She might do both–she might read late into the night and then start refinishing early in the morning, because reading should be done at night and work should be done in the morning. That’s what my mother would do. And she wouldn’t stop until she was finished, which would be pretty speedy because Mom didn’t let grass grow under her feet. Then she’d feel a little better. But she would never call it therapy.

My therapy is talking about her, obviously. I want to talk about missing her and valuing her, and I want her to hear me. My friends mostly felt the same way. Last night we sat and re-told the stories of our parents’ passings. We nodded and hugged and stifled the little sobs that catch in your throat when you let yourself remember how much you miss hearing the voice of the one you’ve lost.

We all talked about our parents, in between breathing and eating and with no lull whatsoever. When it was my turn (which it generally was), I talked about my mother. I’ve been doing this all week. Sensing and sharing. Sensing and holding it in.

When it comes to grief, we who are engaged in its process feel each moment and make a decision to share or not to share. I think sharing has more to do with us than it does with the person listening. Sometimes we need to share, and sometimes we need to ruminate.  Last night, I mostly wanted to share. And when I’m not talking about my mother, I’m thinking about her–about what comments she would insert into the conversation going on around me and how we would dialog. I can picture her expressions of disapproval or surprise or joy. Well, mostly, I think she’d be annoyed with the exchange. Why do you keep talking about me? It’s not a big deal. I’m fine now.

Before Mom got dementia, she didn’t love going out to eat; she considered it an unnecessary expense and a waste of time. But after her dementia kicked in, lunch out with me was a special treat. Even though I took her to the same few restaurants every time, she would say with delighted surprise, “I think I’ve been here before.”

This is how our lunches would go:

I read her the menu options, and she will look up at me expectantly. “What are you getting?”

So I scan the menu and choose something I know she’ll love, because she will order what I order. She will want chicken pot pie or a cheeseburger. She will like the tomato and the lettuce  on the burger. If she gets the pot pie, she will not be able to finish it, but she will try. She will drink iced tea in the summer and hot tea in the winter. She will say she’s so full, she can’t eat another bite of anything. She will end the event with “Goodness!” and a big smile.

But we’ll peek in the bakery window, and I’ll say, “Wouldn’t a cookie taste good right now?” because I know desserts are one of her therapies.

She will smile and give a little giggle. “What kind should we get?”

I will read through the list for her and point to each kind. “Chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, sugar.” I see her forehead scrunch in consternation. She likes all of them. What will she pick today?

“You can’t go wrong with peanut butter,” she says. We get a big cookie to share, but I only break off a small piece and give her the rest. She says she can’t finish it, but she does.

Last night, at the restaurant with my book club, I read through the dessert options after dinner, and I thought of her. Key lime pie, chocolate-caramel cake, creme brûlée, cheesecake, rum raisin cake. Nope, nope, nope. Peanut butter pie. What would my mother do?

You can’t go wrong with peanut butter.

I look at the desserts under glass, and I can see her reflection. I can see those hazel eyes dance with the “I’m-getting-a-dessert” sparkle.

In my mind, her voice reduces to a whisper, as if she’s poised to indulge in something truly sinful. Her face is a light. “Peanut butter will be delicious! You can’t go wrong with peanut butter.”

It’s true. She likes peanut butter with anything. Sandwiches, vegetables, crackers, cookies, pie. So I choose the peanut butter pie.

I take it home, and I eat it slowly by the forkful, savoring the airy richness of chocolate ganache and peanut butter fluff.

“Goodness! This was a good choice,” I hear her say into my ear.

It’s true; the pie is sinfully good. I take another bite. For a moment, I don’t miss her. She is here with me, and we are enjoying the pie together.

10 thoughts on “What would my mother do?

  1. Lynn Harbison

    This made me think of the time a couple weeks after my own Mom passed away and my closest friend invited me over for lunch. She made quiche, fruit salad and chocolate mousse and we watched Gone with the Wind ( for the umpteenth time ) and when Melanie dies and I was sobbing my eyes out she just kept handing me tissues. It was exactly what I needed to release some of my grief. For me, I wasn’t ready to talk yet, the emotions were too deep and raw, but as time has passed I find comfort in talking about her, my kids know all the stories and her favorite go to answers, like ” a man on a galloping horse would never notice that !” if I was complaining about some minor detail. I will always be sad that they never met her in person but love to hear them talk about her as if they knew her, which in a way they do, just from listening. Words are a powerful thing.

    1. Sue Schlesman Post author

      Wow, what a beautiful narrative. Thank you for sharing. I hear you–I’m going to be worse than an average mess now when I watch movies. But even thought raw emotions are difficult to deal with, it is so critical to let it all out. So many times when I find my voice catching and my eyes welling up, I see that the person I’m talking to is doing the same thing. Pop;le want to empathize–and if they have a similiar grief, I think they ache for someone to feel the pain with them. Your comments were timely and lovely. Thank you!

  2. Hilary

    What a wonderful soulful story about your grief and dear mom. My mom’s birthday is coming up so it’s a particularly hard time and this was therapeutic. Thank you for your writing!!

    1. Sue Schlesman Post author

      I’m so glad this helped you. I just thought about the birthday thing today when I was looking forward in my calendar. My parents have the same birthday in October–this year will be particularly hard, since now I have no parents. I think we just need to continue the self-therapy–expressing love and sadness, which create thankfulness for the blessings we have enjoyed. Thanks for sharing with me!

  3. Shelley Kemp

    Loved this, Sue!! Keep telling us about your wonderful mom—I want to read more.

  4. Monecia Smalley

    On July 4, the day before my birthday, the man I almost married 4 years ago passed away unexpectedly, at home, alone. I, too, feel the need to talk about him and remember, but my friends here in MS never met him. My family disapproved of him. His family thought I caused his divorce in 2008. I feel the loss as keenly as if we were still lovers, but I have no standing; I’m not an ex, or a member of his family, or a current “girlfriend”. No one wants to listen. So I’m going to eat a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, his favorite, once a week for the next little while…and let a glass of milk catch the memories that slide off my cheeks.

    1. Sue Schlesman Post author

      I’m so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing such a hard story. I think grief is especially hard if you can’t express how you feel to someone who will show love or empathy. I applaud your peanut-butter-and-jelly idea. A therapist would also be a good idea–they are great listeners and they won’t pass judgment. As a Christ-follower, I’m also a huge fan of the church community. Try to find a small group or a Bible study group in a church that is accepting and supportive. Prayers and blessings! Write again anytime!

  5. Beth Alley

    Back when I was working at American Express, we got word our office administrator’s daughter had committed suicide. She was also my friend so I quickly read on some sites the best way to comfort in this situation. The advice was they need to talk including every intimate and uncomfortable detail. A friend and I went over and listened. And still do.
    Grateful God has blessed you with true friends!

    1. Sue Schlesman Post author

      Thanks, Beth. It’s so true. And if you’re the listener, it takes practice to choose the right (and few) words to say. Thanks for commenting!

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