Cooking through grief: Claire's story
A passion for food helped bring Claire’s family together in times of grief, as well as giving her a positive mission to help others
Losing three very close family members has taught me a lot about myself. Yes, it has been hard, and there have been plenty of tears, but what I have been through has made me stronger, and given me a new focus.
My journey has been one of self-preservation: a journey I had to embark on in order to stop myself from drowning in the waves of grief that I endured. This journey has not only saved me, but has also enabled me to inspire others on the way. I have learnt how to channel my grief, and turn it into something positive.
It all started in July 2016 when my dad was diagnosed with cancer – it was terminal. When you are faced with such a diagnosis you feel helpless, as there seems to be nothing that you can do; you can’t make things better, and it’s difficult to know how to help. But I decided that I would use my love of food, and I began to cook for my parents.
I would take food around when I went to visit, which not only lightened my mum’s workload, but also showed them how much I cared and gave me an excuse to pop round more regularly. There was one particular soup that my dad loved – I called it my ‘souper bowl of slow-cooked goodness’ – that was the last meal he ate, and now holds a special place in my heart. Food has an amazing capacity to evoke memories and emotions in us.
During my dad’s illness, I also continued to host regular family get-togethers – something I have always done, but with my dad’s diagnosis, it seemed even more important that we got together as a family. I love entertaining; there is no better feeling than sitting down with friends and family and catching up over a delicious home-cooked meal. It always tastes better when it is cooked with love!
Food and cooking have always played a big role in my life, but my dad’s illness made me think about how important what we eat is; I became even more conscious of what we were consuming as a family, and began to change some of our ‘bad’ habits.
At the same time, I decided to start Facebook and Instagram pages to share tips, hints, recipes, and inspiration with others – I wanted to show people how easy it is to cook from scratch. I whole-heartedly believe that our diet plays a massive role in supporting our general health and our wellbeing – you really are what you eat!
Sadly, my dad passed away in February 2017, shortly after his 70th birthday. The hole he left in our family was immense, and although I knew that it would never be filled, I knew that with time the grief would become easier to manage.
My dad became my motivation and drive. I continued on my mission to inspire others to ditch the processed food, and to cook from scratch. My social media presence slowly gained momentum, and I began to really enjoy the feedback I received from followers – there is nothing better than receiving a photo of one of your recipes, especially when it has been successfully created by someone who thought they couldn’t cook!
Just as the grief of losing my dad was becoming more manageable, we received the terrible news (in December of the same year) that my older brother had cancer – his was also terminal. As a family, we were devastated. It seemed so unfair and there were so many questions in my head: Why us? How can life be so unfair? What have we done to deserve this?
As the waves of anger and grief built, I knew that I had to do something; positivity became my super-power as I embarked on another cooking mission.
This time, I used my love of food to help me cope with my grief, and to support my brother and his family. I cooked lunch for the two of us each Tuesday, and we ate it together, and chatted – for a couple of hours he was no longer my brother who was dying of cancer, he was just my big brother again. I am so grateful that we were able to share this time together and I know that without the excuse of taking round lunch, I probably wouldn’t have visited him as much.
While I was in his kitchen, I would also get things ready for dinner that evening, so that my brother could sit down with his wife (who was working at the time) and their young children to eat a home-cooked meal. My time and cooking was such a small gesture, but it meant so much to us all.
My brother sadly passed away in July 2018, aged just 49.
Again, I channelled my grief, deciding that I would turn my social media presence into something else. I started on the journey to publishing a website packed with my simple home-cooked recipes that even the most reluctant cook could manage. My plan was to offer a subscription service at minimal cost to show others that planning meals leads to healthier choices and saves money, and to demonstrate that cooking from scratch isn’t complicated.
I was now doing this for my dad and my brother – they were both my motivation. Inspiring others to lead healthier, happier lives was helping me deal with my grief. Whenever a follower commented on how they had enjoyed a recipe, or explained how meal-planning had helped them make healthier choices, I did a little happy dance!
But then, in August 2019, tragedy struck again when my other brother (aged just 47) suddenly died of a heart attack – no warning and no time to say goodbye. It really makes you realise how precious life is, and how you have to make the most of the time you have.
None of us knows what is around the corner, but I want to give my family the best possible chance of a long and healthy life. By cooking from scratch every night, I am teaching my children (aged 10 and 13) good habits that will hopefully stay with them into adulthood.
But it’s not just about my family; I want others to follow my lead and plan home-cooked meals. And I want to show people that by channelling your grief, you can have a positive impact on not only your own life, but also on the lives of others.
Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr Life coach
It’s hard to imagine the emotional journey that Claire and her family have had to navigate. Dealing with feelings of grief, disbelief, and the innate sense of unfairness that goes along with that is a real challenge.
At the heart of this story though, is love. A love of others, a love of food, and a love of sharing – all fundamental to who we are as human beings. The way she has managed to channel her experience into something to enrich the lives of others is truly an inspiration!
To connect with a counsellor to discuss ways to navigate grief, visit counselling-directory.org.uk