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Think I’ve mentioned someplace on this site that sharing meals and cooking was always very important to my husband...it was also a big part of my mother’s life and one of the ways she showed affection and concern for those in her life, they were similar in many ways, including that one. My husband used to tell people that he’d always “had trouble distinguishing food, love, and sex” — he’d say it in a joking way, but he really believed that in some way, at the deepest level, they were all one thing. Often when we would be about to sit down to a nice meal, especially outside on a beautiful summer evening, he would say “we really should call someone, invite them over, this is just too good not to share.” He would get upset about me skipping meals when he was out of town, though I would insist that I was a social eater and just didn’t feel hungry when I was alone, so a cup of tea and a cookie was all I felt up for. When he died I had a period of not eating, which seems to be pretty much a norm in bereavement. But eventually I started cooking again, and the few people who were aware that I had started preparing “proper meals” for myself alone often expressed surprise that I could or would bother. For me i think it is a way to connect with my husband, learning to make the Italian and Polish dishes that were particularly his, or things that I made that were his special favourites.
My impression was that this behaviour is an oddity of mine, but recently I came across a memoir that described the experience in a way that felt very familiar to me, and somehow comforting, so will paste a couple of paragraphs here in case it is also of interest to other bereaved people. The writer is Judith Jones, known primarily I think as the editor of Julia Child, but this book, which I came across by chance, is mainly autobigraphical, written when the author was in her eighties, I think. This excerpt is from a transcript of a reading she gave when the book was first published.
I also have found that being alone, rather than lessening my interest in cooking, has in some ways almost heightened it. I’ll just read you a passage from the last section of the book, called “The Pleasure that Lasts the Longest.”
After Evan died in the winter of 1996, I doubted that I would ever find pleasure in making a nice meal for myself and sitting down to eat it all alone. I was wrong. I realized that the ritual we had shared together for almost 50 years was part of the rhythm of my life, and by honoring it I kept alive something that was deeply ingrained in our relationship. In fact, more than ever I found myself that mid-afternoon letting my mind drift toward what I was going to conjure up for dinner when I got home, instead of walking into what might have seemed an empty apartment.
Actually, I’ve always had a dog who was hungry to greet me. I gravitate toward the kitchen, as I did as a young girl, to bask in Edie’s -- that was our cook -- warmth, and I can’t wait to bring it to life, to fill it with good smells, to start chopping or whisking and tossing and smelling up my hands with garlic. I turn on some music, then have a glass of Campari or wine, and it is, for me, the best part of the day, a time for relaxation. When at last I sit down and light the candles, the place across from me is not empty.