Friday, August 12, 2016

Cooking in the after life

This post was originally published in my occasional cooking blog, cook pot stories. It's been modified slightly here. If you want a recipe for stock please go to the original post

I love cooking. More accurately, I used to love cooking and my understanding of myself includes a love of cooking, even if I no longer quite feel it; I'm learning to love it again but in new ways. Cooking has been therapy, meditative, a chance to experiment and a way I communicate my affection and esteem. I'm sure you cook for many of the same reasons.

In the 2+ years since Kevin died, I've not been cooking much and when I do it's often with mixed feelings. I loved cooking for Kevin. Because his cancer attacked his digestive system, food and cooking became a big deal while he was sick and then a big reminder after he died. When I do cook it's usually something simple, not the elaborate meals I made before he got sick. Certainly this is a part of how I'm experiencing grief. Analysis aside, I'm aware that I miss it, but I don't yet know how cooking fits into the after life.

I've come to think of my life since Kevin's death, especially as more time passes, as living in the Twilight Zone, as the after life. That's what it is; my life after him. I have a rich life. I love and am loved. And yet it often feels as though it's not quite my life, as though it's someone else's. I've slipped into a parallel universe where everything looks much the same but is entirely different. I think my relationship with cooking might be a part of this, though I dearly hope I regain my passion for it.

All of this is in the front of my mind this morning. I am in Minnesota, where I am performing in the local fringe festival. I'm enjoying it, making money doing work I love. I'm staying with my sweetheart, a wonderful man in his own right, who accepts me as I am, understanding that Kevin is part of the package. I am looking out of the window at a lovely late summer day, where the air is beginning to feel like autumn is coming, my favorite time of year. And I have a pot of stock simmering on the stove, so the house smells rich and fragrant.

When I was preparing the stock this morning I found myself reaching for the familiar things I might find in my own kitchen but they weren't there. I had to find a stock pot of different dimensions than the one I'm used to. The knife is a fine one, but not worn to my grip. The spice cabinet didn't have everything I would usually use. All of the tools I wanted were there, easily at hand, but they weren't the same. They worked well. I will have a lovely pot of stock in a few hours. We will enjoy it together on some coming cold day.

And yet it's not the same. I don't regret living in the after life, not at all, but sometimes it's a shock noticing how I am in a parallel world. A loving and loved partner. Work I am good at and am earning a living with. Joy in many of the same things, like trees and music and food. A pot of stock, simmering. All of these things existed before Kevin died. They exist after. But they are all different.

I imagine as more time passes I will find my footing more easily; I know I am more grounded now than I could ever have imagined in the months immediately after his death. I expect I will try more complicated dishes again and may eventually even make some of his favorites - braised short ribs with sour cherries, for example - and will enjoy them even as I feel sorrow and longing.

Cooking remains a love letter, a way I communicate my affection and esteem. It's a language I need to relearn, that's all. In the meantime, soon enough I will have stock. I will strain it in a different colander, let it cool and freeze it in a new freezer. But the love and care that went into its making are no different. It will still be delicious, it just might mean a little more now, here in the after life.

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. I get your parallel universes, Laura. Eight years after my husband's death, I still love growing vegetables, but don't want to put up the harvest. I only need few frozen jars of tomato sauce now, because who's going to eat it? Besides that, pasta is no longer a staple around here. The old habit, the desire for that old pleasure, remains. Sigh...

  2. Ive quite often referenced this as a "twilight zone" or my "new life" and the previous was my "last life" i completely understand the parallel universe. its so strange.


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