Family Traditions: Eating Your Way Through Death

ImageThere’s a great book out there called Being Dead is No Excuse: The Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect FuneralIt’s funny, with crazy southern recipes in it from tomato aspic to deviled eggs. The premise, of course, is dying is no excuse not to have plenty of food for those you leave behind. A truer statement was never uttered by a southerner.

The night before and right after we buried my mother this past week, we ate. A lot. My mother, being a southern lady, no doubt timed her death to kick off the Thanksgiving holiday week so that eating our grief away could be a week-long event. This is, after all, the woman who five days before her death proclaimed she was dying that minute, and then sent me out to get her buffalo wings as a last meal. As my wise aunt, said, “Ah, the restorative power of chicken wings.”

So this Thursday, my extended family, who came together for the funeral and eating but were dispersed between North Carolina and Maryland for their own Thanksgivings, continued the trend. My family had the great pleasure to share Thanksgiving with my aunt Suzanne and uncle Billy, and cousin Diana and her husband Scott. Though Scott is from Maryland, and so his claim to be a southerner is tenuous at best, he redeemed his questionable geographic heritage by deep-frying a turkey. Yes, I know I’m late to the party, but it was the first time I’d had a fried turkey. Wow. I’m a fan. It’s the first Thanksgiving where I ate more turkey than sides or dessert.

My family is so very different. We are republicans and democrats (I’m neither). We are atheists/agnostics to Christians (I don’t think I’m outing myself by saying I am the latter). I’m the odd duck who family members know as a Christian but also deeply suspect of being a bleeding heart liberal, whatever that means. We can’t fully figure out each other, ever. Of course, we can’t fully figure out ourselves.

We live states apart. We see each other surrounding death now, more so than holidays as we did when we were younger. But family is as permanent as the tightly knotted shoe strings of a child’s sneakers. It may not always be pretty, but it’s hard to undo and it does the job.

This week was pretty, for the most part. Sad yes, but also healing. For some, it was the ritual of a funeral process. For some, it was the funny stories. For some, it was the slow march of time through the week, which heals in its own way. For me, it was all three.

I am thankful for the reverent and irreverent family members I have, and the time I had with them this week.

לחיים. To Life.

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