My beautiful mama Rose has been dead for six years, and I honestly think that one the biggest contributors to my coping with the loss of my best friend is continuing to make her yummy Mexican food recipes. After she died those first few weeks were torturous, the pain and silence I felt were surreal, and I felt lost without her.
Then one night, while on complete auto-pilot, I started making her Spanish rice recipe for dinner. I hadn’t made it since she died, even though it was a dish that I’d made thousands of times. As the house filled with the familiar aromas of frying rice, onions, garlic and other spices, I began to quietly weep in my kitchen. And then to my surprise, I felt my heartache lighten a little. Her rice had transported me back to my childhood and her kitchen, and I felt profoundly connected to her again.
For several years, I wept while making her recipes, but I also felt a deep, active connection to her, and so I kept cooking her mole, enchiladas, tacos, chimichangas, soups and other delicious dishes, and eventually, I stopped crying.
I’ve had several conversations with various friends and acquaintances that have had similar experiences with grief and homemade food. The aromas of their loved one’s recipes comfort them, and for a brief moment, their heartbreak is lighter. And they feel especially fortunate if they know how to make several of their family members most cherished recipes.
Today, I have a large picture of my sweet Mama directly across from my kitchen counter, and I routinely find myself having conversations with her as I chop the ingredients for dinner. Her guacamole recipe is one of my favorites, and I find myself taste testing it, looking at her photo and saying, “you’d love this, the avocados are so sweet and creamy.” I also love experimenting with her recipes and revising ingredients, and I can almost hear her telling me that she approves, disapproves or one of her favorites, that it’s no longer her recipe and not really Mexican food anymore.
I have other conversations with her too, about my day, work, children and through some magical homemade food portal it is where I feel her love, standing in my kitchen cooking and I feel our strong connection, not like a distant memory, but alive and all around me.
When I decided to write our story, Molé Mama; A Memoir of Love, Cooking, and Loss I wanted my book to help other caregivers feel comforted and to know that they weren’t alone in days leading up to their final goodbyes. I included eleven of our favorite recipes in the book, and now my readers are sending me pictures of their food in their homes, on their stoves and kitchen tables that they made using my mama’s recipes. It warms my heart and delights me to know that her recipes continue to connect families and friends.
If you are grieving an amazing home chef, I hope that making their recipes will comfort you too and lighten your heartache. And eventually, you will learn to live with your grief and its ok for it to take as long as it takes and ask for help.
And just a friendly reminder that if any of your living family members make delicious food, write down their recipes or better yet, videotape them cooking; you need to preserve these family treasures for future generations to enjoy.