DSCN3011(From Jan. 7, 2016)

During the acute stages of grief, concentration can be difficult. People tell me not to push myself along, but I find am ready to be a tiny bit productive. It’s hard work to focus on the paying job; instead, I find myself wanting to write small bits. Snippets and thoughts. I can’t not write. But the journal doesn’t feel good, so I’m scratching on 4×6 cards. My house is staffed with them. They serve my every writing need whether I’m on the sofa, at the breakfast table, in the car, in my office, or stalled just about anywhere. If you see me penning on a colored card, you know what I’m up to. Purple, teal, magenta, sunflower, sailboat blue, pea-ish green. Particularly as I try to make this time meaningful and memorable by exploring related things. For example, today I wondered—what is food’s relationship to grief? Huge, culturally, and across cultures, I knew. But what does the body need, what foods most nourish it and push it toward recovery. Death losses are trauma. Losing someone you have so feared losing brings on a secret catatonia. When no one is looking, you totally shut down.

To combat this, the habit in most cultures is to gather, to bring food to a central place, to feed the ones aggrieved familiar, comfortable dishes meant to soothe and to relieve the family in shock of the need to focus on food preparation—especially because in the very earliest stages of shock, the urge to replenish the self is removed or at least hampered, depending on the individual. Never having been big on get-togethers, my immediate family (most of us) clustered in a restaurant afterwards, and that was about it. We focused on cajoling my mother, trying to get her to take a few bites. She was so very feeble. Refusing water. Refusing food. I like to think I saved her with Moon Pies, which is a story to be told later.

For me, my craving since Daddy’s unexpected passing has been for small amounts of very healthy food every 2-3 hours. With a few exceptions, I’ve hankered for greens and salad, baked potatoes, vegetables, nut butters, rice cakes, gluten-free crackers, and hot peppers. I’ve sprinkled a red pepper seasoning on my sunflower butter every morning for weeks and craved Mexican and Indian food, but know what is going on there: the aftermath of hot pepper ingestion involves the release of endorphin—the feelmegood stuff the brain makes in response to trauma, in this case, taste bud cells seared by the peppers.

I was careful to use aloe vera juice (buy only organic with no preservatives) daily to calm my gut, also Rescue Remedy, a mega-dose of Vitamin B complex, mullein tincture (40 drops in filtered water 2x/day), green tea, and fermented raw foods such as sauerkraut. The brain translates the body’s chemical needs into cravings. I simply paid attention and believe this routine helped me to recover from shock more quickly than I otherwise might have.

I also averaged a glass of red wine every night, and 1-2 ounces of very dark chocolate. The sedative created by the alcohol in red wine promotes rest; resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant found in red wine, along with dark chocolate, which promotes the production of endorphins, support the immune system and ultimately recovery. Rest and relaxation are essential to grief’s initial shock stage. Endorphins pull us away from darkness and toward center.

Now, a month later, I am more drawn to protein. I have eaten tofu and tempeh almost daily since Saturday. Normally I would average consuming a frank protein source only every other day. I believe the protein need might have to do with the return to intellectual and creative work, where the work of walking through Dad’s death was very physical. Indeed the physical nature of the labor needed was no small shock to the system itself, but certainly explains the need for plant-borne nutrients and carbohydrates.

My diet suggestion for vegans who are grieving is this:

Shock (this for me lasted about a month; but I could be in some denial around that—I could still be in shock for all I know; how would you know?): B-complex, mullein tincture/40 drops in water 1-2X/day, 4 drops Rescue Remedy under the tongue each morning, 2 oz. aloe very juice at bedtime, daily vegetables, hot peppers and pepper seasonings as tolerated, several servings of fruit, brown rice, nut butters, avocado, baked potatoes, seeds and seed butters, 6 oz. red wine daily, 2 oz. very dark organic chocolate. UPDATE 1/12/2016: I’ve come to understand that I am only now, in week 6, coming out of the shock phase. Part of this had to do, I know, with the way my father died—seeing him in my mind’s viewfinder struggling in the fog and dark through the cold and mud and manure is a picture I expect to be with me for some time to come. However, in the past day or so, a dab of my old playfulness has started to return. Tomorrow, a massage, to help me reconnect spirit and body. Also, last week, week 5, my appetite returned in a very voracious way. I found I couldn’t stop eating, but was also very fatigued from the 2500-mile road trip home. Hard to say what was at work there, but this week is much better. I feel rested. Worked a full 8 hours yesterday. Went out with Phil to watch the college football nationals. Just when I thought I would never return to anything close to normal, I begin to feel a tiny bit restored.

Return to everyday life (months 2-4; just beginning this phase, so may have insight to add later): as above, but add frank protein sources such as tofu, tempeh, and legumes liberally. Discontinue mullein. Maintain aloe vera juice. 3-4 oz. red wine daily, 1 oz. very dark organic chocolate. Begin casual exercise daily. UPDATE 1/12/2016: I’ve added holy basil (tulsi) tea to my daily arsenal as I move through the readjustment stage of grief. I find it makes me feel just a bit brighter in the mornings and definitely have felt a decrease in stress, if the depth of sleep can be considered an indicator. Phil and I made several great tea hauls during our travels across the country and back. I’ve turned away from bagged tea forever in favor of fresher bulk teas from small, craft tea makers. I found this current bag of holy basil at the Boise Food Co-op’s new store in Meridian, Idaho. Not for people who are taking anti-coagulants, or are pregnant/nursing, but for the rest of us, during times of stress, holy basil can be part of a strong support system. You can also grow it yourself, and apparently rather easily, as it is a relative of the mint family. Limit use to 6 weeks.

UPDATE 7/16/206: I reached the point where I had to grab myself by the collar and haul myself out into the world in mid-February. I went for another long drive, then a short plane trip, and spent a few days with a good friend in Nevada, took in the perception-shattering mid-winter light around Carson City and along the east side of the Sierras, sat in 3 different hotsprings, and saw a Chinese medicine doctor for a soul-wringing acupuncture treatment. I doubt I would have survived the loss without some of these things, as my wine consumption quickly escalated to a bottle a day. After about a week of that, I knew I had to do something drastic. Travel is always a game-changer, as are soaks in the hot waters of our mother planet, which I’ve always likened to amniotic fluid. It’s where masculine fire meets feminine water, where all is balanced. I went back for a second dose of all the above in June. I hoped to catapult myself over toward the healed side of the scales. Sadly—and this is so common as to be epidemic—no sooner do I start to think I’m getting back on my emotional feet than another tragedy occurs in the world, and I feel myself re-entering the shock of December and January. The bad dreams return, even if only for a few days. Now we have France and Turkey to think about. The stress sifts through to our day-to-day. We wonder. We worry. Are we next?

Accommodation (your body and mind have accepted the change): not sure about this yet, but I suspect a return to routine is part of it. Will update here as I make discoveries. UPDATE 7/16/2016: Some days I think I’m nearing the edges of this, but then there are days I do nothing but watch movies—movies the subject matter of which always seems lately to be about people moving on from death and loss. Working with a Chinese medicine doctor means I have an obligation to follow recommendations and to keep trying to live as healthy a life as I can. This focus is evolving into a new routine, one that refreshes on a daily basis thanks to a regimen of no alcohol, sugar, processed foods, or caffeine, although he also insisted that I return to eating a small amount of animal flesh. When I told him I didn’t think I could, he suggested fish, salmon in particular, and so my compromise is a piece of wild-caught fish twice a week. I’m thinking of it as medicine, a prescription. The body takes another turn and another turn, and always for the better. Balance. This is why we are always taught: eat a balanced diet.

An MD’s thoughts on foods to support grieving:


“What foods should I eat if I am grieving?”

Dr. Michael E. Hirsch, MD , Neurology, answered:
Try to eat healthy foods when you are grieving. Avoid foods that supply mostly empty calories, like candy, chips, cookies and pastries. Drink plenty of fluids, and limit alcohol and caffeinated drinks. If you’ve lost your appetite, try simple comfort foods, such as soups, mashed potatoes with chicken or meatloaf, fruit and yogurt smoothies, puddings, pasta, or foods from your childhood or cultural background. Eating small portions frequently may help, too. Take a multivitamin to cover any nutrients your diet isn’t currently supplying.

I also found this: I made it my business to try to change the way my father ate. I knew fast food was killing him, and he did, too, but he was completely addicted. He may have died as the result of a motor vehicle accident, but I know the American diet is what really killed him. I’ll be explaining this in the days and weeks to come.

Lastly this, which would seem to support my instincts: