Death is an inevitable part of life and yet we as a society are unsure how to handle when people around us experience loss. We struggle to find words that will give comfort, support, and kindness to those whose hearts are shattering beneath their chests. We all know this is something we will face at some point, something that will alter the way we see the world around us but words never seem to be enough. Even actions fall short of being able to convey how much we wish to help someone who is struggling to keep themselves from falling to pieces.
Before I continue, I want to make it explicitly clear that regardless of the way people reach out, I appreciate the multitude of people who text, call, comment, like, and everything else to let me know they are thinking of me, that they support me. This article is not meant to diminish or shame them. I feel more love in these moments than I have on many occasions and that alone is a balm to my broken heart. But I want to stress one very important fact in this article; when you lose someone you love you have absolutely no idea what you need and being asked that question only makes you feel more helpless, more alone.
Throughout time one thing has always been a constant when it comes to losing a loved one. I want to call this act “The Art of the Casserole.” For as long as I can remember society decided that when someone you know loses someone close to them you bring them a “casserole.” Now this casserole doesn’t have to be from your oven, freshly made and hand delivered, especially when we live in a world where Uber and Door Dash are ready and available to do most of the work for you or a quick few swipes and an e-gift card to their favorite restaurant can be sent without leaving your home. We do this because it’s a way in which we are able to help someone we care for and ease the tasks and burdens of everyday life while they navigate a loss. What I hate to tell you is that in my experience this art has been forgotten.
Let's look back to the movies and tv shows of the past and think. One thing that was always present was death and food. Meals for weeks, more food than you could ever know what to do with and that in itself, almost became a burden, but this “burden” showed love. It was almost comical, the fridge filled with ceramic dishes and the overwhelming support people shared with one another, so much so that you had no idea how to accommodate the support given to you. This love for a family struggling or love for a person whose life just changed forever is slowly fading from our lives being replaced with a quick text or a comment on a post. The art of the casserole showed, without saying “I’m Sorry” that you were there for them and that you wanted nothing more than to help them. Now let's take this concept and bring it into today. Today the act of sending cards, showing up, and being present are all pieces we have diminished because social media and texting allow us to “care” from afar. I can’t tell you the amount of text messages or comments I received telling me how sorry people are for my loss and to “let them know” if I needed anything. One thing I know for certain is that in these times, while the grief is so overwhelming, I am drowning in it I have no idea what I “need”. The last thing I want to do is become a burden for someone else when I feel like my entire being is too much to handle.
The art of the casserole is not just the act of sending food but rather it is the act of being present, of taking on someone else's role for them while they take time to heal themselves. This task can be done by just showing up, by sending a card, by checking in, or by sending food. It can be done in the way we connect with one another in a physical way because when your entire world crumbles around you the last thing you are doing is asking for help. These small tasks are what allow us to be active in someone else's loss and show, not in a digital way, but in a physical way that you are there for them which is what they ultimately need the most. This is especially important when you navigate a loss because a loss is exactly that, the departure of someone who was physically there to them not being their anymore. This may shock you but the further into the future we go the less physically present we become with the people in our lives. This is not to say I haven’t done this myself; I have been the one to send the “I’m sorry for your loss text” and never follow up, I’ve been the one to not show up when I really should have and looking back on those moments, I now realize how wrong I was to assume that my presence wasn’t what they needed most. I know from experience now that the presence of others is what I craved more than anything else, but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I didn’t want to ask for it because truthfully in those moments the only person I wanted was a person I couldn’t have back.
So, I implore you to rethink the way you handle the loss your friends and family navigate. I encourage you too not only be digitally present but to be physically present as well. Buy that card and send it, show up with a bottle of their favorite drink or their favorite snack and curl up with them for an afternoon. As much as they will never ask because I know I never will they want you there more than they can say, they need you because they crave a love they can no longer have. The art of the casserole has been lost in our world, it has been pushed aside like many other traditions and it’s something we need to reclaim because at the end of the day it’s the people in our lives that make our hearts feel so full and when your heart is hollow and broken beyond repair, the last thing you want is to be alone.