‘A crowbar came through the windshield and struck him in the head.’ When he died, a bit of me died too.’: Grieving daughter turns to cooking therapy

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“Grief is like riding your bike downhill, enjoying the breeze, until you hit a curb head-on and flip over the handlebars. Grief knocks the wind out of you and you never fully catch your breath.

No one ever told me grief could make you feel like that, like you can no longer breathe normally. No one ever told me it would dismantle friendships, strain families. No one ever told me grief could get physical— fatigue, aches, pains, chipped teeth, and changes in body and appetite.

No one ever told me grief would make me hungry—starving, almost—for the rest of my life.

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

On Monday, August 13, 2018, I opened my cabinet in my tiny South Boston apartment to grab a coffee mug and all the shelves collapsed. Tracing my steps and text messages back to that moment, it probably happened at about 9:45 a.m.

The police report estimated my dad’s accident occurred at the same time.

‘Somewhere just before 10:00 a.m. on Monday, August 13th, 2018, a crowbar came through the windshield and struck him in the head. His vehicle veered off the road, hit a curb and an unoccupied car. The vehicle continued over an embankment before coming to a stop.’

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

My dad was my favorite person. He was a lot of peoples’ favorite person. He was a prominent and well-respected lawyer, but also managed to be an incredibly involved father, husband, and friend.

‘He was an exemplary man.’ ‘I never, ever met anyone who could say a bad word about him.’ ‘He was very collegial, always willing to help,’ are among some of the statements that were made about him in the news and media following the accident.

He was not a big guy, but had a very large presence and loud, easily identifiable voice and laugh. I wish I didn’t struggle to remember it.

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

The truth is when my dad died that day, a little bit of me died too. I became a different person. I immediately experienced changes in mood, sleep, eating, and overall energy. I no longer had the tolerance for other people’s small problems because they paled in comparison. Losing my dad absolutely lead to significant shifts in my personality, my priorities, and motivating factors.

2 and a half years later, I still can’t believe I have to talk and write about him in the past tense. It’s seemingly impossible to fathom moving forward in life without someone that has that much real estate in your heart and mind. So, I decided I wouldn’t move forward without him—instead, I’d move forward with him. I’d incorporate his loss, and my subsequent grief, in everything I did.

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

I was hungry to keep his legacy alive. I was starving for people to recognize my loss and grief and the impact he had. I was ravenous. I was yearning. I was, what I would later coin, grief hungry.

Cooking and mealtimes are some of the most overlooked aspects of grief. Widows and widowers, for example, can have an incredibly difficult time learning to cook for just one, and someone can be triggered just by simply strolling by a certain food at the grocery store.

The truth is the casseroles stop coming and the flower arrangements die before the grieving has even begun.

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

Grief sufferers can sometimes barely get out of bed—never mind plan dinner and meals for themselves and their family. As a strong cook and food lover myself, I experienced firsthand how grief and its impact on the body and mind can result in a total lack of interest in things that used to bring you joy.

It was a struggle early on to have an appetite or keep it at bay. I no longer had any interest in meeting up for dinner dates or partaking in small talk. I was so tired and sore I thought I had the flu. I clenched my jaw so tightly, I chipped all my front teeth.

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

But, instead of sharing this with friends and family I began candidly sharing about my dad and grief online. I petitioned for more weight to be put behind the topic of grief and I aggressively took to social media and news outlets to discuss the need for stronger bereavement leave policies and resources in and outside of the workplace.

I started sharing about how therapeutic cooking and chopping were for me. I researched how cooking therapy, also known as culinary or kitchen therapy, is a way to ‘nourish your mind and feed your soul,’ as described by Psychology Today.

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

I soon realized my cooking, recipes, and thoughts on grief were resonating with a lot more people than I ever could’ve imagined. I was hearing from both people I knew and total strangers I was making them ‘feel less alone’ in their thoughts. I was told, ‘Your story helped me, motivated me, and reassured me,’ or, even, ‘What you’ve written is truly one of the most relatable things I have read about grief.’ This all gave me an immense sense of pride, as well as a responsibility to continue sharing, speaking candidly, and incorporating my loss into my present and future.

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

Grief Hungry is an exhaustive, curated space for grief sufferers, their stories, and the stories and recipes of their loved ones. Individuals submit quotes, statements, and stories from their lives and experiences with grief, along with stories or feelings about the person they have lost and a recipe they either got from that individual or one they perhaps made for that person or use to cope.

Think of it like recipe sharing for the grieving. We’re making cooking cathartic, but also memorable, and these photographs, recipes, and candid submissions have become the subject of a vibrant community.

The bereaved are hungry for a lot of different things. We’re hungry for acknowledgment and support. We’re hungry for more time. We’re hungry for finding purpose and direction after our lives changed, some of us in the blink of an eye, some of us after years of struggling. Each just as heavy. Each just as valid.

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

Cooking as a form of stress relief is now actually recommended (along with other professional medical guidance and support) for many people dealing with a wide range of health conditions, many of which grief sufferers are struggling with—like anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and stress.

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

It’s my hope Grief Hungry helps in three constructive ways. First, it gives the grief community a platform to submit stories and recipes that either honor their person or their grief. Second, it provides the grief community with those recipes, so when those casseroles and lasagnas stop coming, there is a place full of meal ideas and recipes for them when they’re low on energy, time, or brain capacity. Third, and maybe most important of all, I’m tying grief to something that’s less taboo to talk about—food. Which I hope will allow everyone, not just those grieving, to better understand and accept that grief and loss are life-changing and can be massively impactful.”

Courtesy of Laura Madaio

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Laura Madaio from South Boston, MA. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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