The Life of Grief
Yesterday we arrived at my parents’ house in San Diego, just skirting the snow in Portland. Snow in Portland in November?! It’s hard to believe. Yet for many years my Thanksgivings were about moving toward the snow. Less because I’m a snow-bunny than because my parents lived in Colorado and I lived in San Francisco, where we’d make concerted efforts to drive to the snow.
During those years my husband (then boyfriend) Isamu and I would pack our warmest clothes and boots in preparation for the Colorado chill. We’d load our bags with books ~ the kind with recipes as well as the ones to read ~ and prepare for the mixed blessings of a family gathering. There was the comfort of being in the folds of my parents home. The nervousness of bringing my boyfriend into the mix. The fun of planning and preparing an extravagant meal. The satisfaction of eating that homemade goodness. And the inevitable tension around clean-up time given my father’s propensity to run a tight ship without informing anyone of his plan-of-action.
I don’t know how many Thanksgiving there were like this before the one where Isamu’s family joined us for the festivities. That year our parents anticipated, with great glee, that we would announce our engagement. In fact, that was Isamu’s intention. Though he was unaware of the parental expectations and I was oblivious to it all.
We did not announce our engagement that Thanksgiving. It didn’t happen until Christmas. With his deliberate and methodical resolve, Isamu had gotten lost in the research of how to choose the perfect diamond. He was spending every spare moment (of which there were few) hunting the Bay Area for his prize. His timing was delayed. And for Isamu it wasn’t about the ring. In fact the diamond still sits in the default setting it came in, in a special compartment in my jewelry box where I placed it a couple of years after he died. (His motive, knowing how picky my tastes are, was to have me design my own setting to hold the diamond. We never got to do that.) It took another year for me to remove my wedding band and place it alongside that diamond ring in that sacred compartment. There was a time when I thought they’d both be on my finger forever.
It’s difficult not to be brought back to those memories as the holiday approaches. Those are memories of starting and building a family ~ of something that felt like spring in the midst of autumn. And this year brings an added twist as I once again, at age 44, invite the man that is now in mine and my son’s life into the family circle. Once again I return to the comfort of being in the folds of my parents (warmer!) home. The nervousness of bringing my boyfriend Brion into the mix. The fun of preparing an extravagant meal to meet the differing dietary restrictions of everyone around the table. The satisfaction of what I’m sure will be a meal prepared with love and gratitude. And I think we even figured out how to navigate the clean-up after all these years! For that I give thanks!
Though holidays can sometimes be tainted with an element of grief ~ grief for lost ideals, grief for how we’ve changed or haven’t, grief for traditions that have had to be altered (or maybe for ones that we wish would miraculously transform themselves), grief for the foods we wish we could eat without suffering tomorrow ~ that grief brings an element of renewal that can be a blessing. Grief is, in fact, the emotion associated with the season of autumn. In Retreat: An Autumn Cleanse (held earlier this month and offered again after the holiday), Andrea Livingston and I spoke about the benefits of moving with the season’s changes ~ with relation to agriculture, your food, your body, and your mental state. In that class I read this passage from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book On Grief and Grieving:
We think we want to avoid the grief, but really it is the pain of the loss that we want to avoid. Grief is the healing process that ultimately brings us comfort in our pain. . . Grief is a necessary step in going from death to life.
This Thanksgiving I celebrate life, as Isamu did and as I know he would have wanted his family to do. I hope your plates are filled with the blessed patterns that holidays can offer; the return to tradition (old or adapted); faith in life, the bounty that is around you, and the promise that the year ahead holds; sweet rememberance of people whose bodies no longer grace the table but whose presence is collectively held; and the gratitude that a meal shared with family and friends, or even chosen solitude, can bring.
On my plate throughout Thanksgiving Day
We often think that it’s the tryptophan in the turkey that makes us so tired after the Thanksgiving meal. Tryptophan is the essential amino acid that is the precursor to the feel-good neuro-chemical serotonin. In the body, serotonin is converted to melatonin, which regulates both mood and sleep.
Yet if we eat protein-rich foods, we’re likely consuming tryptophan all the time (possibly even every day) without feeling those same post-Thanksgiving sedative effects.
So let’s talk turkey. What really leaves us slumping on the couch after the meal of thanks?
It could be the consumption of a more carbohydrate-rich meal than you might usually eat (stuffing, potatoes and pie all at one sitting). Or, and more likely for many of us, it could be your slowed metabolism after such a feast.
How, what and when we eat have a tremendous affect on our mood and metabolism. You may be tempted to skip your meals early in the day in anticipation of the calories that you’ll be consuming around the Thanksgiving table. Yet when you deprive the body by bypassing your hunger signals, then gorge on one huge meal, your body actually freaks out. It thinks its starving and does everything it can to store the food. What happens then is that your metabolism becomes sluggish, you get sleepy, and the release of insulin in response to your meal is stored as fat instead of converted to energy. Big meals make you sleepy because your metabolism is slowed!
This Thanksgiving I’ll provide my body with continuous calories throughout the day. I won’t be in starvation mode when I sit down to feast, and my signals of satiety will be clear. As a result I hope to have more energy, less pent up (and somewhat frantic) hunger, & a more even mood.
Care to join me for a nibble?
What else is on my plate this month?
Pecan Slices from The Mommy Bowl
These were one of my favorite recipes that I tried this past month. A great little pack of protein in a simple cookie.
Baked Lima Beans from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian (reprinted here)
This is one of those recipes that people question only before they taste it. Then they’re begging for the recipe. It’s one of our family’s very favorite fall meals. Give it a try! You’ll thank me and Madhur through every bite.
All the incredible recipes from Retreat: An Autumn Cleanse
(To be offered again after Thanksgiving! See details below.)
What’s on my family’s Thanksgiving plates?
- pastured turkey (for the omnivores among us)
- gluten-free oyster stuffing
- wild salmon (for the pesca-vegetarian and pesca-vegans among us)
- sprouted wild rice salad with butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, and walnuts from Sunfood (for the vegans among us)
I’m adapting this recipe for a cooked, not raw version.
- mashed russet potatoes with roasted garlic and ghee
- green beans with shallots and pine nuts
- a big mess of greens with garlic and fennel
- gluten-free apple pie
I’ll make this simple and do a standard apple pie with gluten-free flour and ghee to replace the wheat flour and butter.
- pecan pie ~ part cooked, part raw
- I’m going to try the cinnamon cookie pie crust from Comfy Belly with the gooey and delicious insides from my November 2009 recipEmail.
- pumpkin chocolate cheezecake from Sweet Gratitude
This will be my biggest feat of the year in that I’m going to adapt the recipe to be sugar-free, using only stevia, to make it vegan, raw and low glycemic. Wish me luck!
- coconut cream
- Also from last November’s recipEmail, and one of my favorites from The Spunky Coconut!