Monday, November 14, 2011

Eating and Mourning

People are kind. Incredibly kind.

I've taken an extended break from my new practice of blogging in order to mourn the passing of my father. I don't plan to write about this loss here, except to say that food seems to be integral to the mourning process. Jewish practice is for mourners to be served a "meal of consolation" after they return home from the funeral. This meal frequently features hard-boiled eggs as eggs are almost universal symbols of new life, whether the meaning be fertility, resurrection, or the cycle of creation. However, almost any round food will do. While this meal is imbued with symbolism, this practice also serves as a way to make sure that the mourners eat something, as they might not feel hungry during their grief. I will say that personally, I ate a ton during shiva (the week-long period after the funeral). Partially, this was due to feeling incredibly sad and being convinced that my pain was physical. Not being able to determine what was wrong with me, I just assumed I was hungry. I attempted to fill the void with traditional Jewish soul food: deli and Chinese. No, really. All I wanted was pastrami, wonton soup, and Singapore noodles. And people brought so much food. But it turned out, despite my massive consumption of carbs and salted meats, I was not hungry. I was just sad.

One of the most jarring features of the shiva was being in my mother's house and not seeing her cook. Not once. She barely used the stove to make her constantly brewing moka pot of espresso (a neighbor lent us her Keurig). I like to say that I come from food. And from cooking. And that all comes from my mother's warm and hospitable kitchen. And I know that cooking makes her happy. But when you're mourning a loss of a loved one, you can't do things that make you happy. And so this post includes no recipes.

Have you any associations with eating and mourning? Any cultural traditions? Sad or funny stories?


  1. I've always loved this about Judaism. Food feels like a touchstone at shiva -- when family and friends feel dislodged from reality, food reconnects them; and when visitors don't know how to help, food is a way to channel their depth of feeling without exuding pity.

  2. When we sat shiva for my grandfather we were brought--like most Jewish mourners--piles of food. In some way just having all that food was a reminder of the naturalness and Jewishness of the process. There are piles of food at namings/brisses, bat/bar mitzvahs, and weddings. Shiva is no simcha (festive event), but the presence of an abundance of food linked it in my mind to the other moments of the cycle of life.