Eating is very hard for me these days. There’s the act of actually making the food, which requires keeping groceries in my house that won’t go bad before I actually use them. I’ve tried to mitigate that issue by switching over to “snacks,” things that can be consumed directly out the bag or container, things that don’t need to be combined with other things or seasoned in any way or heated up or anything that will somehow hinder the process of getting the item into my body. But then there’s also the issue of being hungry, and even if I get hungry, there’s the complication of needing to not be too nauseous to actually eat. I’m a fat dyke who loves to cook and had never experienced depression before this year; finding it challenging to feed myself is a brand new experience and frankly, I hate it.
When my dad died eight months ago, a lot of people who had also experienced big grief encouraged me to make time to sit with the emotion. It’s hard to describe grief, especially the grief of losing a parent you loved and were close to, in any coherent way because it’s so individual and also so uneven. I spent the month of May, the fifth month of my life without my dad, essentially okay. I don’t mean I was happy or good or not grieving, I just mean I went about my business: my professional life was filled with success and deadlines, my relationships were happy and easy, my beautiful home, Portland, transitioned into spring in a way that inspired beauty and awe — my days chugged along. And then June arrived, or maybe more specifically Father’s Day arrived, or maybe the six month mark was always going to bring the facade crashing down. It’s hard to say. I’m not okay, is the point. I don’t think I was okay in May, but it was easier to fake it or not think about it. These days my grief bangs against my temples, swirls around my gut, reminds me of its existence every moment of every excruciating day.
I decided to start sitting with it because why not. It’s not like anything else I’m doing is helping. It’s not like I think this will help, but it’s something to do. For the month of September I’m going to exist with my grief intentionally at least once a week. We’ll do some different activities together, me and my grief. I’ll tell you about it. This week, in an effort to deal with two issues at once (feed self / sit with grief) I decided to eat breakfast with my grief. Here’s what happened.
It was already noon by the time I realized I needed to feed and caffeinate myself. That happens a lot, now — I wake up with a stomach ache and I dive into a task to distract myself, so by the time I’m thinking about food I’m really really hungry, which helps me eat because it distracts from the nervous belly. The problem is, obviously, that I’m then already really really hungry. I was very tempted to order food, though I absolutely do not make enough money to order food as much as I’ve been doing this year, but I reminded myself that I wanted to be intentional with my grief today so I paused and took stock of my kitchen. I had frozen bagels from the East Coast, brought back from the last time I visited my mom and my brother so we could be sad together. I had some eggs, some butter, some ketchup. I had English breakfast tea and enough almond milk. I could make breakfast. I made the decision: I was going to make and eat breakfast with my grief. We were going to do this thing, this task that used to be extremely routine and now genuinely felt like a special occasion, together. My dirty dish pile is so embarrassing I almost don’t want to bring it up, but I want you to know I made a big effort: I found my favorite mug and my favorite fork and washed them just for this meal. I took a breath and centered myself.
Think about Dad, I said in my head, as I turned on the toaster oven and buttered the frying pan. Don’t let your thoughts wander. Just think about Dad.
I started to cry.
I stopped thinking about my dad on purpose and thought about other things. I decided I didn’t need to make the whole breakfast process a grief exercise, just the actual eating part. I was starting to feel sort of sick again and wondered if I could actually go through with eating.
Breakfast is my favorite meal. This specific breakfast is a comfort go-to of mine, something I make just for myself because other people have told me they find it kind of gross. If you’re not into ketchup with your scrambled eggs that is extremely your prerogative but I find it to be delicious. I scrambled the eggs, mixed them up with ketchup, toasted and buttered the bagel, steeped the tea, mixed in the almond milk, assembled the eggs on the bagel, sprinkled some flaky salt on top. I committed to making the meal an occasion: I grabbed a nice cloth napkin, took everything out to my patio, and snapped a photo with one of my favorite new plants. Then I put my phone inside, sat cross legged on the most comfortable chair, and pulled my plate into my lap.
This is eating breakfast with my grief, I said to myself.
One bite, two bites, a few more bites. Swallow. It felt like I was meditating, like I had to keep bringing my thoughts back to my body, like my mind could wander off at any moment if I let it. I thought about my dad. About the breakfasts he made me growing up: brioche, crepes, French toast. I thought about what it means to grieve someone: he will never make those breakfasts again. I will never be able to make him breakfast. He will never sit on my patio in Portland and eat breakfast with me because that is not a thing we managed to do before he died and now it is not a thing that is available for us to do. The tears hit my cheeks and I felt too sick to continue eating. I put the bagel down.
How many minutes have I been sitting here, I wondered. I checked my watch. Fourteen. How long do I have to sit here, I wondered. I felt rude, like I was insulting my dad by not sitting with my grief for longer. Fourteen minutes was all I could manage?
I picked the bagel back up. I let my mind wander. I thought about what grief is, what it means. Is thinking about my dad a synonym for thinking about grief? Is making space for my grief an intentional way to make time to be with the memory of my dad, or is grief itself actually something different? It feels selfish but a huge part of my grief lately has been my loss of self. I am no longer the version of me that existed when my dad was alive, and I miss her. Is it fucked up to miss myself when I’m still alive, when the person I should be focusing my missing on is my dad? I wish I could ask him what he thought.
Slowly, I ate the whole bagel. I didn’t feel hungry anymore. I drank half my mug of tea. I stayed outside for a little while longer. I checked my watch before I went inside: twenty eight minutes. This week, that’s the best I could do.
[Blank] With My Grief is a weekly mini-series by me, Vanessa, about intentionally sitting with grief. Next Saturday I’ll be walking with my grief. If you’re currently experiencing big grief, please feel free to share specific activities you do with yours in the comments. I’m really fucking sorry we’re all here together.