My mother had a knack for making things last. She knew how turn a roast from Sunday into soup on Monday. A single mom raising two daughters, she became some sort of inventor when it came to ground beef; cube steak into chili which she then morphed into something else we called goulash. Goulash must have been short hand for clean out your cupboard and throw everything in! She could also work miracles with Thanksgiving turkey and she has this particular recipe for turkey salad that makes my mouth water to this day.
Several weeks ago I wanted to make that turkey salad but I could not, for the life of me, remember all of the ingredients. In the past, I would have just called mama, and she would have walked me through it, but it has been months now since she has passed from this earth into her heavenly home and our nightly phone calls have ceased.
_It was an unspoken tradition for my mama and me, every afternoon as I would drive home from work I would call her. We would talk about our day and most importantly what we intended to prepare for dinner that evening. I’d ask her crazy questions like, “can I substitute olive oil for butter?” and she’d remind me of where I came from and the truth that all Southern women uphold, more butter is always better! My very own Betty Crocker handbook, she served as my resource so that I’d know what to use instead of the ingredient that I had inevitably forgotten at the grocery store. We’d swap recipe ideas and I’d get off the line with far more kitchen wisdom than a woman at my age should have.
This particular day—the turkey salad day, I realized I couldn’t call her and without her I couldn’t make the recipe. The pain of that reality was devastating so I opted for a stop at a new local cookie boutique.
Thrilled to be helping support the local economy, I have been stopping at this cookie boutique often. These cookies are like yummy drugs that you can’t resist. The first time I stopped in, I discovered I didn’t have any cash with me and the owner said, “It’s okay, take them, enjoy them, I know you’ll be back”— which is exactly what crack dealers say to the users on all of the gritty television crime dramas.
Somehow the butter rich, gooey peanut butter cup cookies that are as big as my fist seem to help the pain a bit so I buy six or twelve if I’m wanting to also bless my husband. The cookies do seem to soothe the pain a bit, I feel pampered instead of raw and lacking the comfort of my mother’s voice—but afterwards, I feel like a failure because I have again tried to anesthetize my pain.
Fed up with this hopeless cycle, this last week I participated in a detox, to clean out my system which consisted of six days of workouts and seven days without sugar or carbs or coffee. I was puzzled at the beginning of the week when my trainer, who knew of my mother’s passing, asked me if I thought I had been ‘eating my feelings.’ As each day of my detox week came and went, I got crankier by the hour, muscles aching; nerves on end, agitated by every living thing, something unexpected began to happen.
As my body was broken down, my head and heart grew clearer. I started to realize that my trainer had been right, I had spent the last several months of my life trying to dodge the pain and my drug of choice has been food.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying a girl can’t have a cookie once in a while; she should! What I am saying is that I now realize I have been using cookies and a whole host of other foods to keep me from feeling the deep and profound sorrow of loss. I have been buying and devouring these ridiculously delicious drugs to try and cheat the pain of my loss. I have been spending far too much time at the cookie shop and not enough time at the local produce stand.
It’s okay, I forgive myself, and maybe you should too. I don’t know what your drug of choice is…maybe it’s shopping for shoes or overeating , under eating , alcohol, excessive exercise or over-functioning in general. The truth is, there are seasons when comfort is what we need more than any other thing and that’s okay. There is also a time when we must face the pain head on and believe we are strong enough to survive it, trusting God to give us what we need when we need it and leaning on those around us who love us and support us and are in their own way grieving too.