What would my mother do?

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

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.

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