Monthly Archives: November 2013

Comforting Easy Pumpkin Dessert

Pumpkin Fest in Boston (Photo credit: lodri)

Pumpkin Fest in Boston (Photo credit: lodri)

COMFORT FOODS

I found a recipe card I’d given our daughter Krista at her bridal shower called “Dad’s Favorite Pumpkin Dessert.”  It included a note saying “it wouldn’t be autumn in our home without a night relishing this no-fuss, delicious, creamy dessert…your Dad loves it!” Memorable foods unite families and this go-to recipe reminds me of Hemingway’s image of “A Moveable Feast.”

We’ve served this every fall for gatherings with family and friends. I actually am not fond of pumpkin pie, but this far surpases pie, is far simpler to make and everyone loves it!  I imagined this tradition continuing as Krista created a home wherever she lived throughout the world, even Bolivia.  The waft of cinnamon and nutmeg brings the kitchen alive.  Try this…..guaranteed great for crowds and still delicious on day two or three…but it rarely lasts that long.

FABULOUS EASY PUMPKIN DESSERT

1 large can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie)

6 large eggs

2  cups evaporated milk (I use one can which pours about 13/4 cup and add half and half or milk for the last amount)

1 1/2 cup sugar (sometimes I’ll mix sugar and stevia)

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. cloves

1 package any yellow cake mix

1 cube butter or margerine

Prepare a 9×13 pan, sprayed with oil/flour baking spray, or butter and flour pan.  Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Mix first 7 ingrediants for 2 or 3 minutes.  Pour into prepared pan.

In a large bowl, add cake mix and one cube butter sliced into thin pieces.  Cut butter into mix until small crumbles form.  Evenly distribute this on the top of the pumpkin in the pan, slightly patting down with a spatula.  Grate a small amount of fresh nutmeg across the top.

Bake between 45-55 minutes, checking until pumpkin appears set when a toothpick or knife comes out clean.  Let rest for a few minutes.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream….listen for the raves!

During times of loss, somehow familiar foods give a quiet comfort for families.   I have found my love of cooking continues to offer a creative joy to many a day, so now and then I’ll include some soul-satisfying recipes in this blog.  We’re delighted to be in stormy Boston now for Thanksgiving with our daughter Susan’s family with our grandson Hunter and granddaughter Quinlen, adopted from Viet Nam.
Thinking of each of you as you gather with those you love, both those present at the table and those alive in your hearts forever.  Thank you so much for joing the pilgrimage and sharing your stories.  I’m grateful for you!
Do you have favorite comfort foods and recipes you’d like to share?

Tender Thanksgivings after Loss

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First Thanksgiving after Hurricane Katrina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Setting the family table for Thanksgiving gives a painful reminder of losing ones we love.  Empty places… once exuberant with life.   Especially during the early years after a death, holiday celebrations take intentional planning because our hearts pulse with grief.

But Thanksgiving is unique because it’s very nature calls us to be thankful during loss.  After the harsh 65-day ocean crossing in the Mayflower and the brutal winter of their early settlement in Plymouth, the Pilgrims had lost nearly half of  their 102 members to disease and death.  Yet, even grieving the 49 losses in their beloved community, they still celebrated in 1621 when their harvest came in and added abundant  venison, cod, bass, and turkey.  The remnant looked to the future with hope.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). The First Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth in 1621. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So did the New Orleans families celebrating after Katrina in the picture above where their decorations related to life after the disaster, including an MRE package, cans of water, battery and cel-phone.  Even the Phillipine parishioners gave thanks in recent Sunday church gatherings after their devastating losses.  Each have discovered that digging deep for gratitude becomes a tool for resilience.  But it’s not easy.

A friend told me of one defiant and truthful mother who told a counselor, “I don’t want to find blessings in a broken heart.”  She may have been responding to friends trying to comfort her with the panacea of”counting one’s blessings” too early after a death, before she engaged in grief work.

But ultimately, the pilgrims clearly were on to something.  Parents tell me they only entered peace and acceptance when they could eventually remember with thankfulness all the child meant in their life.

There’s a small book of poetry by Dom Helder Camara called A Thousand Reasons for Living that has been a companion during the years following our daughter’s death.  An archbishop in Brazil, he was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the poor. He’d often rise at 2 a.m. to write brief meditation/poems that his friends collected into small books.  His poetry, alive with awe at the wonders received if we stay open to each day, reminds me to stay both present and hopeful during difficult seasons.

 A Thousand Reasons for Living Poetry

Don’t let yourself be torn

between yesterday

and tomorrow.

Live always and only

God’s today.    14 February 1964

I’ve written earlier about the healing power of nature and Helder Camara speaks to this too.

What a curious charm

autumn has

for me!

Why do I feel so happy

as the leaves

turn golden

or red,

when I know

they will soon be falling,

leaving the tree

stripped and bare?

My joy lies in the certainty

that life will prevail over death:

new buds will burst,

new leaves,

new fruit.

29 February 1976

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Last night, as we celebrated an early Thanksgiving feast with our son’s near-by family before leaving for New England to visit our daughter’s family, I looked across the table.  Though Krista is with us only in spirit, we cherish the wonder of Erin, our six-year-old surprise granddaughter who enlivens our life immensely.  She reminds me of the joy in staying open to “new buds that will burst.”

Have you found it’s possible to have gratitude amidst grief?

 

 

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Masai Wisdom on the Healing Power in Stories

Two Storytellers: Jack Brace and Moses Pulei

Two Storytellers: Jack Brace and Moses Pulei

We gained our first inkling of the healing power in stories when Moses Pulei, from Kenya, flew up from Southern California to our daughter’s memorial service in Spokane.   “In the Masai tradition, when someone dies, our gift is to go to their home and share a story,” he explained during the reception. “May I come over?”

When a loved one dies, researchers found that the most common early reactions is an intense yearning, a sense that part of you is missing, and a hunger to have them back.  This surprised grief researchers at Yale University who expected depression to be the dominant emotion after a death.  In sharing stories, such reminiscences often provide solace and help ease the heartbreak.

But to the dismay of many bereaved parents, after a brief time many people rarely want to talk about the child who died.

It’s the most common lament I’ve heard from so many mothers and fathers who have come to my Pilgrimage through Loss book presentations.   These silences add another layer of pain.   “We go to a family reunion and our son’s never mentioned,” laments a mother. “It’s like he’s been obliterated from our family story.  We know it’s because they are afraid to upset us, but we just long to hear our child’s name.”

“Ours was a family bound by an unacknowledged credo,” says Solveig Torvik who wrote a family memoir Nikolai’s Fortune to unearth four generations of Norwegian silences.  “They tend to believe that if a thing remains unspoken, it does not exist; if pain is given no voice, it lacks power to harm.”

Many war veterans in my writing classes told a similar story.  They carry their pain in silence in vain hopes it might go away. Unfortunately, buried grief seldom dies.

But the Masai know better.  Moses visited the next day and told us about a disturbing encounter with overt racism when he first arrived in our city to attend college.  While walking downtown with another African student, a group of men in a pickup threatened them, hurling racial slurs and yelling at them to go back to Africa, a scary moment.  Grandson of a respected village elder known as one of the “holy people,” he’d never encountered such abuse in his life.  He seriously considered returning home. His college sponsor knew Krista, and for some reason said, “You have to meet her first.”

“What she said changed my life,” he recalled.  After he told her what happened, she encouraged him not to make a hasty decision.  “Moses, when this happens again, you have to remember that the problem is not in you, but in the persons treating you this way.”  Then she added, “If you let these men deter you from your goals, you’ll never achieve what you came to America to do.  You want to be in control of your life decisions, not let them determine your future.”

He took her words to heart.  Rather than shut down in fear, he chose to stay in America and be his warm sociable Kenyan self.  He became so beloved among students they elected him as their first international student-body president.  His brilliance and commitment as a scholar led to doctoral scholarships.  He now speaks several languages, connects Americans and Kenyans in common projects such as drought relief and education for girls, and presently leads a program for World Vision in Tanzania. “Without her encouragement, I often wonder how different my life would be now.” Although we knew he’d met Krista once at our home during an Easter brunch, we’d never heard this story.  Truly a gift.

Ways of sharing stories:

Parents tell of a variety of kind gestures that others do to give them more lasting memories of their child.  Friends, family, or work colleagues of older children share emails, letters, or music tapes they’d received, or drop by to visit and reminisce .  Sometimes teachers, baby sitters, or neighbors of younger children give another glimpse into a parent’s child.    “When I came to know some of the children in my son’s grade school class, you sensed how they almost all felt like he “was their best friend,” said one grateful mother.

As well as hearing stories, parents often long to share stories of the son or daughter they miss so profoundly.  Compassionate Friends recognizes this need and offers over 660 meeting locations throughout America.  A pastor founded this bereavement organization in England in 1969 after observing that parents found their greatest comfort when talking with other grieving mothers and fathers.  Their credo “We need not walk alone” finds expression through the parents, siblings, and grandparents who gather and share support, insight, and stories.  Several I interviewed for my upcoming book found this network a lifeline in their early years of grief.   I’ll write much more about them in a future blog, but you can find their on-line presence at www.compassionatefriends.org.

When have you found the sharing of stories offered solace?   Have you experienced painful avoidances or silences?  Do you know of traditions or rituals during bereavement from other cultures that seem meaningful?

 

Remembering a Birthday after a Child Dies

Surprise kindness

Surprise Kindness

 

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What can ease our hearts as we live with growing trepidation of an upcoming birthday, especially in the earliest years of bereavement?   I remember a rising disquiet of the soul the first year after our daughter died as November 5 drew closer.  Part of the joy of celebrating one we love are the days prior…finding a gift we hope gives them pleasure, baking favorite desserts, gathering family and friends together.  All serve the intent of saying “we’re so glad you were born!”

Now bereft, a great emptiness emerges.

So common is the apprehension during anticipation of special days, the Mayo Clinic calls this reawakened grief  an “anniversary reaction.”  Like other grief resources, they encourage being prepared for this possibility by having a strategy to cope, such as connecting with others, writing a letter to your child, or starting a new tradition. An in-depth grief resource online www.opentohope.com offers an extensive list of thoughtful suggestions for strategies that families might find useful.

It seems that the challenge is finding a balance between intention, such as creatively planning how to face this day, and attention, staying open-hearted to receiving the serendipity surprises that days often bring.

Intention

For intention, Jim and I decided that we’d at least plan something special to do together on her birthdays.  But we also were both teaching that first November 5.  A student in my class wrote about her Dusty Strings small folk harp that she played for children in hospitals to lift their spirit.  So on Krista’s birthday, I invited her to bring this wonderful white maple harp into my basement office.  As she played “Morning Has Broken,” a beautiful hymn sung at Krista’s baptism and Memorial services, other faculty and students gathered around to hear more.  A memorable moment of joy for all of us.

For intention, Mary Beth Baker, who loves to cook, often makes her son Stephen’s favorite lemon meringue pie on his birthday. After he was killed in a motorcycle accident, it gives her hands and heart a sweet way to ease the day.  When her daughter’s 21st birthday loomed, Jan Skaggs invited Cameron’s friends to her favorite restaurant. “We gave them each a present from Cameron’s things, such as books she had underlined, favorite jewelry or scarves, music from her collection.”  Rather than a time of depression, “Cameron’s birthday turned into a magical night of laughter, storytelling and appreciation for how friends loved her deeply.”

In Morning Has Broken, one of the verses says,

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning

Born of the one light, Eden saw play.

Praise with elation, praise every morning

God’s re-creation of the new day.

Living with Attentiveness

Living open-hearted, and recognizing surprising graces helps us experience the “re-creation of a new day.”  In many ways, every day still calls us to find this balance of living between intention and attention…planning and setting goals, yet still living in attentive mindfulness to the day’s generous moments.

Our serendipity surprise came this week when a new family in our neighborhood dropped off a small pink box and card at our doorstep.  Laura, a neighbor, helped her four children make us a delicious batch of raspberry oat bar cookies.  They included a kind note in memory of Krista’s birthday.  Such kindness lightens the day!

One November 5, always the start of a cold winter in Spokane, I stopped off at a local nursery.  The staff person asked, “Do you want some roses?  We’re giving them away because we don’t have time to plant them.  No guarantees they’ll survive.”   So I left with ten free rose bushes in yellows, apricots, cream, and gold.  We planted and mulched them that very afternoon, with hopes the rockery might shield them enough to survive their first freezing winter.  To our sheer delight, they’ve bloomed every summer since…nurtured with Jim’s compost (black gold, I call it) and love.  When they shimmer in the morning sunlight, their exquisite beauty elates us and all the neighbors walking by.

The encouraging news in listening to parents describe their pilgrimage through loss is that major milestone days become easier. As one father described, “the edges in pain soften.” 

 Your Stories

What has your family done that eases the sorrow of this significant day?  Or, have you brought kindness to a family remembering a loved one?  Any surprises?   I’d love to hear your experiences!

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About Linda
For everyone, life sometimes brings shipwreck moments.

Ours happened when four friends woke us one beautiful May dawn to break the news that our 25-year-old married daughter Krista had died 7000 miles away while volunteering in Bolivia. Our hearts shattered, much like the shards of her bus that plunged over a mountain cliff.
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Desperate. Determined. Unwaveringly confident. In 1896, a Norwegian immigrant named Helga Estby dares to cross 3500 miles of the American continent to win a $10,000 wager. On Foot. BOLD SPIRIT: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America introduces readers to this fascinating journey of an audacious act of courage and love of a mother trying to save a family farm.

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Support for Parents

+ Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors On-line forum and website www.allianceofhope.org

+ American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) (Formerly Candlelighters Childhood Cancer) www.acco.org

+ Compassionate Friends www.compassionatefriends.org

+ First Candle: www.firstcandle.org Support for Stillborn and SIDS deaths

+ Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS) www.catholiccharities.net/loss

+ MISS Foundation (also in Spanish) www.missfoundation.org On-line support groups : Infant & toddler death and advocacy

+Parents of Murdered Children www.pomc.com

+ TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: www.taps.org 1-800-959 3277 for survivors of military deaths