The farmers market provides a fresh perspective along with fresh food.
I lived alone for many years before I met my husband. More often than not, I ate alone, traveled alone, went to cafés and restaurants alone, and thought nothing of it. But loss changes everything.
After two years of battling a brain tumor, my husband, Tony, died just after midnight. Suddenly the familiar streets, our home, even my body, seemed surreal. Still, the following day I took care of phone calls and making arrangements, doing the things that needed to be done, just as I had throughout my husband’s illness. When I noticed through my fog that it was starting to get dark, I stood up from the piles of paper on the dining room table to head into the kitchen and see what there was to fix for dinner. I took two steps and froze. I could not face the kitchen.
I had loved cooking meals for and with Tony before he got sick. After his diagnosis, I dedicated myself to preparing healthy, delicious meals for dinner. Part of me believed that my love and these meals could help heal him. The prospect of facing the cupboards and refrigerator to fix something only for myself filled me with dread to the point of nausea. I tried to reason with myself, “You haven’t eaten properly for weeks, and you need to eat. Besides, you promised Tony you would eat well.” But my feet would not move. There was no longer a purpose to drive me past the fatigue and trauma.
I must have stood in the middle of the dining room arguing with myself in slow motion for fifteen minutes. Then the phone rang. My friend Loraine called to say she had heard about Tony and wondered if she might come over. It was as if she had thrown a lifeline to a drowning woman, and any sense of decorum was flung to the winds. Without hesitating, I responded, “Yes! And bring food.” She told me the soup she was preparing would be ready in about ten minutes and then she would be over. Relief and gratitude flooded through me.
Shortly after Loraine arrived with a big pot of homemade soup, another friend called saying she had just heard about Tony and asked if she could come and take me out to dinner. I told her, “Loraine just got here with dinner, but tomorrow would be great.” Right before she was due to arrive the next evening, a couple we had been friends with called to invite me to dinner. Once again, I didn’t hesitate to say, “Tomorrow night would be wonderful.” I didn’t mind being rude if it meant I could avoid the kitchen.
Over the next few days, others brought food, I heated up leftovers, and by the time I had to cook for myself again I was able to walk into the kitchen and put together some semblance of a meal. For months, though, I had no interest in food and had to force myself to eat. Rarely did I manage much more than a frozen entrée and a fresh vegetable. To distract myself from the fact that I was eating dinner alone, I read art books—Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Renoir, anything that was interesting, but neutral enough to help me avoid painful emotion.
On the few occasions I prepared something a little bit special from scratch, the process fed me, and it was an affirmation of trying to take care of myself for Tony. But it was hard to muster the energy. Part of the problem was that I had no appetite—everything tasted like ash. I understand now that grief somewhat deadens our taste buds. Eating foods with a bit of bite—pickled beets, dill pickles, Thai food, a Bloody Mary—can help reawaken the sense of taste. So can trying something new. The “different” alerts our senses.
Going to a farmers market and buying fresh local produce can bring a fresh perspective. One evening the summer after Tony died, my only options for dinner were opening a can of soup or fixing a cheese sandwich. It was too hot for soup, so I really just had one option. As I ate a piece of bread with a slice of cheese slapped on it, I vowed that I would go to the grocery store the next day, no matter how much I now hated walking down those aisles. Picking through the mail, I saw a flyer for a farmers market, and that seemed a preferable alternative.
Lured by the prospect of heirloom tomatoes—slices of those alone would have jazzed up the cheese sandwich—I wandered among the stalls and found myself entranced by the diverse colors and textures of the fruits and vegetables: carrots in bright orange and purple, ripe peaches with fuzz, shiny bell peppers in vivid shades, delicate leaves of thyme. It was a visual feast. Most of the vendors were friendly, and it was clear they truly cared about nourishing themselves and others with good food. It was contagious.
Emptying the contents of my shopping bag onto the counter at home, I was struck by how beautiful the Green Zebra and Black Krim tomatoes looked next to the rich brown of crimini mushrooms and the deep green of basil leaves. There was a vitality to them that packaged food lacks. The growers’ attentiveness to their crops invited me to be more attentive to their produce, and I found myself momentarily captivated by the different shapes and colors in the spring mix of lettuces.
That evening, as I was preparing a salad from my bounty, I felt as if I were truly honoring my promise to Tony. Goat cheese spread on a baguette was the perfect complement to my beautiful salad. For dessert, I marinated peach slices in a tiny splash of brandy with a dash of brown sugar, then topped them with plain yogurt. I felt nourished on so many levels. That meal was a reminder that the earth offers an abundance to feed and heal us. While grief sometimes feels like an out-of-body experience, cooking and consciously tasting food can help us reconnect to our senses, and to the earth. In the months that followed, I slowly and sporadically moved back into preparing better meals for myself. I became motivated to bake pies or make something special for those who had been kind as a personal way of expressing my gratitude.
While nothing in life is ever quite the same after a great loss, I became comfortable with eating alone, and even eating solo in restaurants on occasion. I still miss sharing meals with my husband, but I am able to face the kitchen without a trace of trauma.
*This story comes to us from Edible New Mexico.