Tip Number One in the Grieving Process: Get Takeout

Everyone processes grief differently. From those who wear it all on their sleeve to those who bottle it in and let it slowly eat them up inside to those who tackle an entirely unrelated project with distracted abandon, being sad is a universal condition we all have to figure out how to deal with.

I grew up in New England. We’re taught from an early age not to show sadness. Or happiness, or anything, really, other than a mild general irritation with other human beings. “Be like a cement pillar,” they said, or something along those lines. At my grandfather’s funeral, we drove up to the gravesite two seconds before the priest arrived, stood there for 2 minutes while he mumbled something in Latin, then got ushered back to the car and whisked away to a Chinese restaurant before anyone could respond to the fact that we were at a funeral. Ta daaa! All you can eat won tons! SSHHHHH AND EAT THE WONTONS.

Bury your emotions, people, deep under a pile of Mu Shu pork where they belong.

Food is an important part of the New Englander grieving process, I’ve realized. It explains so much about my family. Yesterday, I wandered through the grocery store for an hour mulling life and the universe and wound up spending 3 hours making a complicated three course gourmet everything. “What was the inspiration for this?” asked my husband as he surveyed the 500 dirty pans in the sink. “Kekoa,” I said. “Here, have some goat cheese arugula salad with pear vinaigrette.”

I try to be a good New Englander, but it’s a struggle. My day is divided into wide swaths of being OK, punctuated by unpredictable moments of destitute tears triggered by something that reminds me that oh yes, I just lost an important part of my life. That’s how it is for most of us, I think. We muddle through the best we can.

The day Kekoa died, my husband correctly assumed I would not be in the mood for cooking. He then incorrectly assumed that going out to dinner would be a good distraction and a solution to our problem of what to have for dinner. My daughter had suggested we maybe consider takeout, but he persevered in his attempt to get us out of the house.

We wound up in an Italian restaurant, one of those places with extremely attentive waiters who are by every two seconds to make sure you are having the time of your life. “How are you?” crooned the hostess, the water boy, AND the waiter, all of whom needed to be addressed in an appropriately cheery tone. And don’t even get me started on the pepper boy.

They left us with a pile of menus and some crayons, all the better to scribble on the paper on the table. My son started drawing a robot. My daughter, on the far side of the table, started in on her masterpiece.

“Look,” my son said. “A robot looking up at the universe.”

“Very nice,” ย I replied.

“Don’t you want to see what I drew?” asked my daughter, pushing aside the salad plate to reveal a house, watched over by a small black dog with angel wings and a triumphant angel choir.

“Oh,” I said, and started crying, just as the solicitous waiter appeared with more garlic bread.

My daughter, thinking I didn’t like her work, started crying too, and as the waiter tried to carefully place the food around the table and pretend he wasn’t hearing anything, my son went back to work on his bit.

“Check out the constellation,” he said, “I made Sirius.” A big dog, outlined in stars. Soon, the entire table was covered in memorial drawings and soggy wet paper.

The manager was most distressed at the fact that our family seemed to be having difficulty enjoying the meal. “Is the spinach not to your liking?” she asked in a worried manner, rubbing her hands together.

“It’s fine,” my husband replied. “Can I get another glass of wine?”

Sitting in a restaurant with the waxy proof of your children’s grief staring you in the face while you try to eat is, if anyone is wondering, not the most effective distraction from your sadness.

Cookies, on the other hand, will save the day every time, and thank goodness they figured that out.

But yeah, next time we have to go through this- pizza it is. And for the love of God, do not under any circumstances rent Frankenweenie.

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  • kk

    I lost my grandmother last week, and reading your post made me smile from the complete understanding in how hard/frustrating/difficult it is for a family to navigate grief because we all process it so differently. There is one universal truth in grief, though: take out will always be the right choice. We chose pizza.

    I’m glad Kekoa is out of pain and wearing her doggie-angel wings.

    • I’m so sorry about your grandmother. And I am glad you all went with pizza. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • kk

        Thank you. Like Kekoa, it was not sudden, and we had time to plan- though the grief is still the same. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  • kgseymour

    Very true. I might also add, try not to schedule your cat’s euthanasia the morning of one of your best friends’ bachelorette party. Although granted, that seems pretty obvious. STILL.

    • You know though, that would have been a great scene in ‘Bridesmaids’.

      • kgseymour

        YES. Do we need to work on a screenplay?

  • Diana

    I’m so sorry that you have to go through all of this. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family as you grieve. ๐Ÿ™

    And you’re right, cookies do make everything better.

  • Thank you for this post. Losing our dog two years ago was the hardest thing my boyfriend and I ever went through, individually or together. Somehow, grieving together, we got through it.

  • thecatguy

    Having also grown up in New England, I can very much relate with the “it’s not good to express emotion” teaching. I can’t imagine going out to dinner after such a heartbreaking loss. I can appreciate your husband’s idea of getting a change of scenery away from visual reminders of the loss but maybe take out on the beach or to a park might be a better option!

  • DThrasher

    When we lost our precious 17 year old basset mix, Frisky, we didn’t know what to do so we went to Red Lobster. Imagine their horror (not to mention mine) when after announcing the daily catch, I burst into tears. I doubt they will ever serve that dish again…. ๐Ÿ™‚ I TOTALLY understand where you are coming from and how we have no control over that lump in our throat!

  • JaneK

    Oh Dr. V…. I hate this for you and your family. In a weird kind of way, though, true grief makes us feel alive. It sounds like you are not afraid to embrace your sadness and that you are not looking to rush through it……. Deep breaths and you’ll make it to the next day…. I almost cried when you shared what your daughter had drawn…. How precious!

  • Kim

    In the 2 weeks before I lost my Casey to pancreatic cancer, she lost her appetite for most food. That was sad since food was the other thing she worshiped besides me. Over many years, I used to take her to the McDonalds drive thru once a month and get her a plain burger. She loved this monthly ritual and it was just for her and me. So, in her last 2 weeks with me, every evening we went through the drive thru and I’d get her anything she wanted. The day I let her go, I went to McDonalds for dinner. I hate McDonalds food, but that day I loved eating that plain McDonalds hamburger. Now every month, I take my other dog Holly to McDonalds…she eats a burger for her, and I eat one for Casey.

  • Kellee

    I am so sad I am late reading the blog this week and I am so so sorry for your loss. Its so damn hard no matter what anyone says. I took 2 days off work when my last dog passed. I know she is at peace and knew she was loved. Hugs to youj

  • Josh

    So sorry to hear about your dog, I don’t know what I would do without mine. They are my best friends

  • Tonya Whetsel

    I am late reading this, as I’ve had a work crisis that has monopolized my time. I am so, so sorry to hear about Kekoa. Knowing it was coming doesn’t make it any easier. P.S. Cancer SUCKS!