How Baking with My Mother Keeps Us Connected

PS. She died five years ago

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“Why don’t you make your lemon cupcakes again? They were a hit last time. You also make a good lemon cream cheese cookie. Either the cupcakes or the cookies will be good.” I had no idea what my friend was saying. I understood that she was giving me suggestions about what to bring to an event we were attending, but the lemon part was wrong. She must have me confused with someone else.

Seeing the puzzled look on my face, she said, “Don’t you remember, last year you brought a tray of lemon cupcakes, and they disappeared as soon as you put them on the dessert table?” Then it clicked, I had brought lemon cupcakes to the party. Over the previous year, I had brought lemon cupcakes or lemon cookies to more than one event. And with that realization came another, I was making the things that my mother used to bake. In the year after her death, I had been visited by her baking spirit. I unconsciously started to cook like mom. My choices were particularly ironic as her love of citrus and spice and caramel had always baffled me. Those things were all fine, but I could not understand why anyone would choose these flavors instead of chocolate.

An inspection of my freezer revealed that my favorite chocolate chip mint ice cream had been replaced by dulce de leche and pralines and cream. Mom’s two favorite ice cream flavors. I was the only one buying the ice cream, and these were my selections. It was now official; I was one of many who could relate to this popular expression:

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I am my mother after all.”

It was quite a shock when I began to understand how I unknowingly was adopting Mom’s preferences. After the shock wore off, I began to embrace the opportunities to bake something that Mom would have baked or to cook a meal that she would have cooked, or to visit a restaurant that she would have liked. It was my way of honoring her memory and continuing my relationship with her.

Continuing my relationship with my dead mother? Yes. When your loved ones die, your relationship with them does not end. I get it, most of us think death severs our ties. That death is the ultimate break up. The truth is complicated and bittersweet.

When someone you love dies, you will still think of them, and you will talk to them. You may have dreams about them or moments when you think you hear their voice, or even believe that you see them across the room. Or if your email server goes crazy, you might start receiving emails from them. One day, several months after my Godfather died, my inbox became full of the many joke emails that he used to send. It took me more than a few minutes to catch my breath and see that the emails dated from before his death!

Just as all relationships change over time, how you will interact with your deceased loved ones will change. You may think about them less often. You might stop speaking to them. But they will always be with you. You will find your way to remember them and honor their memory, me – I will keep baking things that mom would have loved.

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