I grew up in a loving yet dysfunctional household, a combination which created a kind of inner crazy-making which I’ve been processing for years. Despite that, well before my parents exited their roles in my life I had come to a place of general acceptance and peace about who they were and how that affected me. I could see their flaws, their fears, and their limitations. And I also could feel their love, understood their good intentions, and could appreciate much of what they had sacrificed for their children.
One of the things which has surprised me over the years since their deaths has been how processing the loss of my mother and father hasn’t just been about me, as an adult, letting go. There has also been a grieving of the loss for the child within me at various stages: the three-year-old who used to wrap her entire hand around her father’s little finger as they walked together in stores; the six-year-old who baked cookies with her mother on a rainy afternoon; the pre-teen who got help on her homework from her dad well into the evening; and the teenager whose mother generously shared her car with her, even when it wasn’t convenient.
As I have processed the huge loss for each of these children within me, something extraordinary has happened: my heart has opened to love that I would not have experienced as fully had I not been forced to revisit it.
As the emptiness has shifted into a new type of fullness, I have begun to hear echoes of my parents in unexpected ways. One day recently I was fixing my morning cup of coffee, and I felt a deep connection to my father. He had a great appreciation of coffee—the aroma of the ground beans, the warmth of the beverage, and the taste of it blended with plenty of cream and sugar. I recall that on many an afternoon when I visited, he would put on a small pot so that we could share our love of coffee along with the conversation.
I have had many other reminders of my parents while working in the kitchen.
Recently when preparing a meal, I went to the bookshelf in the kitchen to retrieve a cookbook. On the shelf I noticed the dog-eared cookbook my mother had used for decades before she passed it on to me, a book containing recipes which I had used early in my culinary training. Glancing at that book I realized that I had resisted my mother’s sexist perspective that it was the woman’s role to prepare the meals. Yet despite my resistance, my mother managed to guide me to become a good cook anyway, something which I truly appreciate.
Sitting on the bookshelf near the cookbooks was a framed photograph of a lone sailboat, a photo which my father had taken on a family trip several years earlier. I remembered his enthusiasm for photography and nature, and how proud he was of that photo. Photography was also his means of commemorating important events such as that special Thanksgiving gathering when he took the sailboat picture.
As I went back to chopping vegetables with my chef-quality knife, I smiled as I remembered my mother’s fear of sharp knives, and laughed gently as I remembered her drawer full of blunt, inexpensive knives which were a challenge to use. Yes, my mother taught me to appreciate a sharp knife! She also shared the importance of spices, color, and nutrition when cooking. My mother also demonstrated that preparing food can be an expression of love, a type of love which I have gone on to share with my own family.
Despite the fact that many years have passed since my parents’ deaths, who they were and what they offered remains very much a part of me. Even today, I hear echoes of my parents in the kitchen…
If you have lost a parent, what sorts of reminders help you to feel the fullness of your connection?