By Jamie Saunders
The first holidays after someone you love passes are a blur, but some moments stand out. The empty seat at the table, the toast, and prayer before mealtime, and for us, the realization that someone will have to make the dishes that mom used to make for us. These are the dishes of our childhood, the ones we begged for when we came home from college, and the ones we only got to have once a year. They are unique, and they were made with a mother’s love. My mom never liked cooking all that much, but she liked making us happy, and so she cooked.
We had begun the process of transitioning the recipes when mom was sick. Still, we never really thought about the permanence of it. She had started to have a hard time following the directions and was content to sit in the kitchen with us and watch. During that time were relieving her of a burden; we were helping. We were not replacing, we were getting by. After she passed, it became a thing of necessity. We needed to make the food she made, using her recipes so we could feel close to her again.
For me, it was cathartic. The smells, the tastes, and the memories were intertwined. If you were having mom’s green bean casserole or yams or pumpkin pie, you were having Thanksgiving dinner with mom. My sister-in-law and I took Thanksgiving that year to a whole new level while we grieved together in the kitchen. The food didn’t bring her back, but it brought us closer.
It can be hard to celebrate Thanksgiving while caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. After you lose someone to it, you have to look a little harder for things to be thankful for. We stayed in the moment, and we focused on the food. We still do.
After two years without my mother at Thanksgiving, it doesn’t get easier, but I have found something to focus on and be thankful for. Her recipes. I’m grateful that she kept detailed recipes for all the dishes that we love. I’m thankful we can continue the traditions that she had a big hand in starting. I’m thankful to pass those memories on to my son. I’m thankful that we still gather at Thanksgiving and share dinner together. I’m thankful for the green bean casserole.
Food memories are powerful, they affect all of your senses. With one sniff, you can be transported back in time or to another place entirely. Food reinforces feelings and invites nostalgia.
What Thanksgiving dish brings back memories and makes you feel closer to someone struggling or who have struggled with Alzheimer’s?