Eating Breakfast With My Grief

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.

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Vanessa is a writer, a teacher, and the community editor at Autostraddle. She used to be hot and fun but now she’s mostly hot and sad. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 353 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. i don’t know if this matters, but you’re not alone in any of the ways you discussed above for handling how to get through this. i’ve felt all those things, or at least as close as i can perceive to another’s individual experience.

    so, if its fucked up to wonder how much time you should spend on any one experience of your grief, then you can sit next to me and share that.

    and i go ahead and ask the people who are gone stuff all the time. sometimes i find myself working through their answer. sometimes my brain moves on to something else. and whenever i think of them, i say hi. sometimes i ask how they are – i don’t know if people’s essence can linger or return here after they died, but if i’m thinking of them then they are here to me. and if they’ve taken time to look in on me, whether i’m imagining it, or prompted, i now find it nice to spend some time with that.

    i hope you keep giving yourself to feel how you feel and let go of shoulds. i suggest that shoulds are a rabbit hole that has no yield.

    sending love and peace, Vanessa.

    • I can so relate to this as I lost my dad a month ago, it hits me like waves, I spend half my time denying that he has really gone, it hurts, it’s painful,
      I feel sick in my stomach, life has changed, the thought of never seeing my dad again sends my head in a spin and I feel sick, all I want to do is sleep so I don’t have to feel this unbearable pain. I list my mum 2 years ago but then I had my dad to take care of, I felt I had a purpose, a distraction now I am alone without them both, it hurts xx

  2. I don’t know what to say except, that I am so sorry for the loss of your dad. I haven’t experienced the loss of a parent, but I have experienced other types of pain/grief. And, sitting with painful emotions is hard and scary. Be brave!

    • My dad was the sixth covid death in my county in Wisconsin. He died in April 2020, right as the lockdowns were going into full effect. I know your pain too well around eating. I’ve always been underweight, between food scarcity and depression and a fast metabolism, but in the worst of my grief I dropped below 100 lbs. I was in a fugue that lasted months, and eating became my Mount Everest. I still can’t remember months of my life from last summer.

      But I do want to say, nearly a year and a half later, I’m feeling better. My body marks stages of recovery my mind has trouble parsing. I cooked dinner for myself for the first time in almost a year a couple weeks ago, and my partners were so proud of me.

      My dad always told me, “one foot in front of the other”. That’s all you can do sometimes, but it’s also all you really need to do.

    • This was a great read, thank you for taking the time to let us in on your deepest inner thoughts. I’ve just lost my mum who was my best mate and as awful as it sounds you forget that others are going through the same thing so it’s a comfort to know that people are working through the same shit. I will never get over it but know I’ll learn to live with it. Sending healing to you x

    • Vanessa, what you describe is exactly what I have been experiencing. It was as if you were narrating my journey of grief! I lost my Mom last December, so May was the 5th month of her passing away. Her final moments in the ICU all alone was something she had dreaded and something that we thought we would not allow to happen. She was a stage 4 cancer patient. Anyone who has had a loved one diagnosed with advanced stage cancer would know about the life expectancy for their loved ones. But it is the end that is so important to them. It is what made her passing away so perplexing and unjust. I would replay the last few days in my mind a hundred times. I would be “strong” and get her out of the ICU disregarding the doctor’s orders. Even if that meant I d lose her within hours, even if that meant “there could be an event” right on the corridor on the way to the ward. But then I’ d have been next to her when she took her last breath. Which was her wish. Which couldn’t be fulfilled because we were not ready to accept that the end had actually come, and the ICU would not help her. Wonder if I can ever get over this guilt. But I believe she is in peace now. Vanessa, know that you are not alone in grief. And know that there’s no deadline to grief. We all grieve differently. Wish you much strength.

  3. I lost my uncle 7 years ago now. He was my mom’s brother and helped raise me and my brothers alongside my parents. Since then I’ve taken so much time to process his death. And still, some days I experience grief as intensely as I did in the weeks following his loss. Even my therapist recently asked if I still needed to process my feelings on his loss.

    On those days I like to watch his favorite movies. It helps me to feel close to him and bring up memories that I often forget. He loved Keanu Reeves and action flicks that had fast cars and faster motorcycles. Even if those movies were terrible lol

  4. Twenty-eight minutes is a lot without a phone or other distractions. Thank you for taking on this series. I’m going through my own (different and less profound) version of grief right now, and this has already been helpful. 💛

  5. Thank you so much for this. My mom died over two years ago, and I’m still struggling with my grief daily. I never thought about missing the me I was when I had a mom, but that really resonates. I miss being her, and I don’t think can be that me again, but I know I still can be an ok me. I hope. I want to process my grief more, or better, but I don’t know what that looks like. This is rambling, but thanks again.

  6. Thank you for this series. My dad died in June, and I hadn’t even really gotten over my mom’s death yet which happened two years ago, and I, too, just feel like a completely different person and I really miss who I used to be! I was completely different, even though noone else around me seems to notice how I’m not the same person. I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts and I wish you good luck, strength, and the best support system imagineable as you go through this.

  7. Thank you for this, it helps. My dad died six months ago and for some reason the six month marker laid bare how absolutely fucking not ok I am. I’m excited for this series, and want to do things with my grief also.

  8. 💔

    There’s no particular logic to the things your mind will focus on in moments like those, or the way you’ll feel about them – after my brother died, for some reason I kept fixating on the three or four days leading up to when we found out, thinking about all the mundane things I was doing, and feeling outraged about how carefree and naive I was as I wasted my last days of having a brother. So experiencing grief about the person you used to be sounds perfectly understandable to me.

    I believe the numbness and depression are ways for the mind to give itself a break from trying to process overwhelming emotions, like a self-protective shutoff valve. For a while I wasn’t sure if I would ever be capable of feeling joy again. I can say that after several years, that capacity did return, and I came back to myself. Changed, yes, but that’s inevitable anyway.

    Sending you much love and strength as you take this hard journey with your grief. Thank you for letting us sit beside you.

  9. I love that you shared this story as I feel we need to discuss grief more openly. I’m sorry for your loss, your pain. I think I would have loved your Dad’s breakfast. I lost my father coming up on 3 years ago this Christmas Eve (thanks for that gift, Dad!). I cannot profess to be an expert but here is what I’ve learned. There is no road map for grief, it comes without operating instructions and people experience it in radically different ways. My 3 brothers lost the same man I did but we’ve grieved so differently. I’ve learned grief is not linear, that it comes with progress and sloping setbacks. It sneaks up on you and stabs you at will, sometimes making you cry while squeezing produce in the supermarket. I don’t think I will ever stop grieving or missing my father. And almost three years out, I’m glad about that. In the first year, I found listening to podcasts about grief helped me a ton (Griefcast hosted by comedienne Cariad Lloyd is my favorite, but there are several other good ones). My husband was surprised that I chose to listen to these every night. He said, “But doesn’t it make you sad?” “I AM sad,” I answered, “but these comfort me.” It made me feel better and perhaps less alone to listen to other stories of grief. For me, the grief has not gone away, but it’s become easier to live with over time. I hope you find the same. Be kind to yourself. It is not a fast process.

  10. Patricia my sole mate, best friend and wife died from a very rare bone marrow cancer 18 months ago after fighting the cancer for 19 months. Over this time we spoke about our 42 years together and what I will do with my life going forward.

    Still to this day I have no enthusiasm, motivation in my life for doing anything, filling in the days with friends and family doesn’t help the emptiness that’s inside.

    We all know one day we and all we love will come to a end but I ask myself when will I be able to fulfil Patricia’s last loving request for me to move on with my memories of our time together and find love again. Grief so so difficult to explain it but it’s apart of me now.

    My Best Regards to you all

    Brian

  11. Thank you so much for your dedication and honesty. Your care and attention to yourself, your feelings, and how you relate to the world are really beautiful and touching in very deep ways. This piece has brought me release, comfort, and some joy.

    My parents died within a year and a half of each other, 7 years ago (they received their diagnoses of terminal cancer on the same day). I am still grieving and learning to grieve, not just the loss of their lives but all the disconnection, disfunction, and trauma they inherited, and unknowingly passed on to me. This has been a huge journey, and the making of me, a growing up into what feels something like an infinitely more full humanity.

    There is still grief to process. Yet often it brings me joy. Joy because i am alive: despite everything my ancestors went through, they survived to bring me to this world. Life itself is victory over all the pain. Joy because i am here and capable of transmuting this grief, because my fate and instincts took me to the medicines I need to slowly open to the process of releasing it. Facing it, sitting with it, accepting it, welcoming it, releases back into the flow of life, the body, the world, all the energy previously spent hiding and repressing it. And joy squared, somehow, that even in the darkest places can be found joy! That I am here and breathing, and despite what /part/ of my nervous system feels, that breathing in fact means i am stronger. Countless generations of survivors have produced me.

    I was never trained in loss, in facing pain or shame. We had to protect our untrained, low capacity, easily overwhelmed nervous systems, with a heavy blanket of silence. But the more I have been able to face, the more support I have found, the greater my capacity has grown, to hold grief without adding fear or attaching extra stories to it. Joy at overcoming these inherited stories (lies!) of being alone or unable to process traumas so big they must be enshrined as evil and harmful forever. And so it has made me feel stronger and stronger, and more and more joyous, the more grief I have been able to feel.

    Deep communion with nature, the living world, has been a huge part of this. And also traditions of grief tending, in ceremony, in community, passed down and elaborated from indigenous traditions, cultures which recognise the importance of grief as a practise, and so are trained in it, which are designed to ensure the health of the tribe as a whole – that nobody needs to hold on to their grief as an individual, that once shared it can be much more easily released. And thus the health of the village, the strong weave which lifts everyone up together, is maintained and increased. Some notable teachers who have informed this path include Sobonfu Somé, Francis Weller, and Martin Prechtel. I have not read all their works but I have experienced first hand the power of their teaching and influence, through those who have learnt directly from them. If you can find anyone holding community grief tending work near you I highly recommend it.

    I hope this helps. I send you all a prayer, that you find the support you need, within and without, and learn to accept it and open enough, one step at a time. You are held in my thoughts. Thank you

  12. I lost my dad just over 2 months and no one understands the intense grief that comes along with it. You absolutely right about eating, cooking and eating it’s such a big chore, your get hungry but food doesn’t satisfy your hunger. It’s not guilty to miss the person you were before your dad’s death, a part of you dies when losing a loved one. Reading this tells me, I’m not the only one who feels like this. Hoping to hear more xxx

  13. Hello there, once again thank you for writing about this. We are roughly the same age, and my father, who I loved very very much, passed in January.

    Eating has been hard. I feel ya on getting low-effort products so that I actually put it in my mouth. I’ve been buying overly expensive pre-cut pre-packaged fruit from the grocery store that I used to bemoan because I can’t bring myself to chop up a watermelon.

    My father was a huge NFL fan, which is something I inherited from him. Some of my happiest memories with him were going to games, and the last thing he and I did together betore he entered hospice care was watch the Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers last December. It was the last time he and I were truly happy together. This coming Sunday, the Bills and the Steelers are playing again, and I’ll be watching, but I know I’ll be sitting with my grief through the whole thing. I’ll be wearing one of his jerseys, flooded with memories from when I was happy. I don’t know how I’m going to react, but I’ll be there.

  14. I hope this isn’t totally presumptuous, since I’m a stranger on the internet who doesn’t know you or your dad, but he sounds like such a lovely person and I imagine he would be so moved by this. I know I was. Thank you.

  15. thank you for all of this but thank you especially for the bit about being “just ok” for the first months. my dad died 2 months ago. I’ve wondered if this flat hollowed out feeling will ever leave and well, if not then at least we’re not alone.

    its really generous of you to share your grieving with us. adding to the shares in case this is relatable: for me grief has looked like talking loudly to my dad while berry picking, crying while driving, and emitting strange involuntary laughter whenever anyone asks about him

  16. hey babe,

    i’m so proud of you for writing & eating & moving thru this. a few months ago i was brought back into the big grief of a loved one’s death, initiated by the death of someone else dear. what’s been helpful this year has been an ancestral practice, which it sounds like your breakfast is a version of… inviting my ancestor in, telling her about my day, asking what she wants from me to honor her. sometimes i get really clear directives. that clarity means i get to remember how to live with her, in the spaciousness of nonlinear time, rather than stick to the linear idea that i’m now without her.

    also for u / anyone experiencing grief, i wanted to offer this that was helpful for me in the first year – the grief recovery handbook (lavender cover). it’s by 2 cis dudes & is fairly outdated, but is v step-by-step & taught me the first practices of going into my grief. they basically require u do this with another human; i did it w a friend going thru a breakup & it was tbh transformative. (altho there’s a lot to roll one’s eyes abt in the book, but that for me was part of the process too)

    ok this is a long comment but i love u, & love to everyone else going thru it.

    <3
    mat

  17. My 33 year old son died just 6 weeks ago. I was having my breakfast in the garden yesterday and ‘Breakfast with my Grief’ popped up on my phone. I read most of the article, but too raw to read it all just yet. But yes, I have now changed, my life has now changed and reading the article as I did and others’comments, I’m realising, me, myself has changed now and I’m trying to navigate each day.
    Thank you for expressing this painful pain so eloquently.

  18. I have taken grief on long walks on the beach (hardly populated at the time), just walking and letting thoughts come and go, and cry, and have conversations (outspoken, without anybody around)

  19. I love this so much. I lost a guardian as a child and never processed the grief properly, and am now having to process all that PLUS 20+ years of denial. It’s hard work, but this piece makes me feel less alone. Thank you x

  20. This essay felt so real and raw to me. <3 I had just been coming out of thick postpartum depression (my baby was 6 months old) when my dad received a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis. By the time my daughter was 16 months old, in June 2020, he was gone. I felt (feel?) the same struggle managing the day to day tasks in grief, especially struggling to sit with it as a parent with a small kid who doesn't understand and needs me so much, with my wife struggling with an autism diagnosis, and in the midst of this fucking pandemic. I also work at the hospital where my dad received his diagnosis and treatment, where I went to every appointment. It is really, really hard.

    I did not make space for my grief through all of this and ended up having horrible recurring panic attacks where I felt certain I was the one dying. These have faded but I still dream that he's alive, and wake up knowing he's not. I did not realize how hard every single day would be.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  21. Thank you for starting this series Vanessa, it means a lot to met to see someone write so honestly about grief. My dad died on November 2, 2020 after being in hospital for 8 months. Losing a parent during this pandemic is fucking brutal and isolating and I am so sorry that you had this experience as well.

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