The taste of sadness

The week after dad’s death, two gifts arrived on my doorstep: a foil covered tray of chicken enchiladas and a ceramic pot of beef Bourguignon. Both were homemade and left by friends. As different as one dish was from the other, they tasted equally of comfort.

There is something about food and grief that are entwined. It’s a strange connection. Why is a tray of lasagne such an instinctive response to a neighbour’s sadness? What has chicken soup got to do with a friend’s broken heart? At one moment these things are at odds — grief is deep and life-altering while food is momentary. Yet the gift of food speaks a lasting language of its own. Food is a way of expressing care when words are hard to find.

An offering of food is an act of reassurance. “It’ll be ok,” it says. As lonely as grief can be, a bowl of something offered with love reminds us that we are not alone. The gift of food is proof of a safety net that sits beneath us. In each mouthful we swallow warmth and friendship that sustain us for the way ahead.

Catholics believe in ‘transubstantiation’. In their celebration of the Mass, the elements of bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ as the ritual proceeds. We Baptists quibble about this, but I sense the comfort my Catholic friends receive from such confidence: there is more happening in this meal than meets the eye.

I get it. My tray of enchiladas is more than a cheesy blend of chicken wrapped in flour tortillas. My pot of Bourguignon is significantly more than tender beef, wine and mushrooms. In both gifts there is the taste of love, and of God, as real and tangible as it can be. More than two months later, the food is gone but the taste remains.

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