I lost an old friend this week. More specifically, I lost an old friend’s mother, a very sweet woman who I hadn’t seen in a number of years, but who left a lasting impression on me. It’s got me to thinking about how we grieve, the rituals we perform, both public and personal.
Were I Greek, I’d make koliva, which I’ll probably make anyway. The lengthy process gives you something do to, something for your hands while your mind works through what’s happened and what you’ve lost.
Food and grief go hand in hand for me. Sushi, of all things, as far from my heritage as that is, always comes up. It’s one way I have of mitigating sadness.
I’d never had sushi before my grandmother died. She was a remarkable, intelligent woman in a world where being intelligent and shockingly well-read was frowned upon. She liked to hide her brilliance in an affected hick manner. People underestimated her constantly, and I don’t think she really cared. The last memory I have of her is at a family reunion. She walked up to me with a cigarette in one hand and a red Solo cup of box wine in the other and said “Why David Ray, how you doing, you little shit?”
After she died, I had a dream. In it I was at sushi with her and my father. I was aware of other tables in the restaurant, but could not see them. They only made themselves known by the slight chink of wine glasses and silverware on the granite tabletop. We were all elegantly dressed, in a way so different than I’d ever seen Grandma. The waiter would occasionally come, offering us a dish. The last time I saw him he announced, “This is the only fish of this kind in the world. This is the only time you will have this dish.”
Grandma laughed at something dad said and I looked at her, realizing that she was dead, that I was dreaming. I understood instantly I did not want to wake up, because she’d be dead again, and gone from me. The moment I thought it, she winked at me, and I awoke.
I’m a vegetarian these days, but I’ll still eat sushi on occasion. I’ll eat it whenever I’m mourning, when I’m sad, or need a reminder of how rare and beautiful a thing life is.
Here’s a koliva recipe, if you’re interested in trying it sometime: