Cooking My Way Through Grief With Grace
There has been a major life change here at Ike & Eli's Organic Farm. My beloved husband, my biggest supporter, and my sweet farmhand, went Home to be with the Lord on August 6, 2022. His death was unexpected, and his illness was sudden and brief. He fought like hell, having faith that he'd be healed in this Earthly realm, but instead, he is healed with his Savior.
Here is our story.
Everyone who knew Mike knew his zeal for life. He was a through-hiker, having navigated hundreds of treacherous miles in the woods for days at a time. He was a runner, enjoying races with his daughters, his grandkids, and me. He was a servant elder at our church. An amazing father. A grandfather. A Navy veteran. A well-respected individual in the credit union industry. A vegan. And so much more.
Absolutely everything in our lives changed on July 4, when I took him to the hospital thinking he needed an IV to hydrate him from an illness he'd had for 3 days. When the hospitalist with poor bedside manner announced Mike was in kidney failure and would be transferred to the ICU immediately, we were shocked. How could someone who had run a 5k just five days prior be in kidney failure? And what is the prognosis for that?
Mike quickly advanced from kidney failure to respiratory failure, and after crashing on July 6, was placed into a medically-induced coma for 8 days. When he awoke, he was convinced he was better, and couldn't wait to move to another hospital room on a different floor, which would indicate he was healing. Unfortunately, that was never to be. On August 4, he wrote a note on the whiteboard we'd provided him because he couldn't talk while on the ventilator. The note stated he was tired and ready to go Home. I showed the note to the ICU nurse, and we switched to comfort care, removing the ventilator and his (vegan) feeding tube. The following day, his fellow elders from our church, our family, and our friends, came to the hospital to say goodbye. Mike, being a social guy, was an adorable host, making sure everyone knew he loved them.
The ICU graciously let me spend the night with him, and early in the morning on August 6, I was awakened by the sound of his labored breathing. I put on Carrie Underwood's My Savior album, and held my beloved's hand as he breathed his last to "Great Is Thy Faithfulness". The sun was rising and shone into his room, illuminating his beautiful face right at the second he exhaled for the last time. That moment was truly the most precious I've ever had in my life.
During his illness and immediately following his passing, I chose to distract myself with my work with Turn, a wonderful female-owned compost company here in Dallas. I suppose it was my coping mechanism; if my work life didn't change, and I could bury myself in projects, I wouldn't have to face the reality that my partner of over 20 years was gone suddenly. (By immediately following his passing, I mean I took a week off from work, and after his military funeral at the end of August, I went back to work the next day and performed a training class for a group of clients. This was much to the chagrin of my sweet boss, who didn't know how to stop me. Talk about not wanting to acknowledge my pain!)
At first, the welcome distraction worked. Then I realized I was only ordering takeout, eating junk food, not working out, and not nourishing myself. Cooking had gone out the window; how could I enjoy cooking for myself, when my love wouldn't be able to enjoy the meal with me? My body felt fatigued, and coupled with grief, I began to hit a wall after making it through the holidays.
Mike and I loved being in the kitchen together, and we loved gardening and enjoying nature as a couple. Suddenly, my partner in life was simply gone. No more day to day conversations, work talks, breakfast smoothies, packing his lunch, dinners together, planting, harvesting, running, hiking, church serving, or everyday mundane activities. After work, I had no one to download with or cook for. Sundays meant going home to an empty house after seeing him in every corner of our incredible church home. Isolation is an odd feeling, especially when you're surrounded by people.
I know Mike wouldn't want me to feel the gut-wrenching pain that I do every day. It's time to make a change.
I've signed up for some races in his memory, gotten back into the kitchen, planted a vegetable garden, and have started a sabbatical with no end date. (This is why you're supposed to be retired when you're widowed - the pressure to continue working from well-meaning advisors is intense. But nevertheless, I am taking the time I should have when he became terminally ill.)
Friends, I vow to you that I will create. I'll create small-batch recipes for you and a loved one. I'll humbly create writing projects to hopefully inspire and teach. I'll create gardening content to demonstrate permaculture in its purest state. I believe in the good things coming.
Hopeful tattoo on forearm September 2022.
To that end, I'll leave you with a note we wrote to each other on August 5, 2022. No one has seen this message before; I'd kept it to myself, but it's time to share it. My darling had all but lost his hearing, so we had to write to make sure we were understood. This message blesses me richly, knowing that even as he was suffering, he was full of love. He inspires me to live the same way every day.
Be well in every cell,