2 bags of frozen steam fresh broccoli
4 cans of golden mushroom soup (not cream of mushroom, so help me God)
3 bags of shredded cheddar cheese
Is that all? That can’t be all. There must be something else that goes into it. But I can’t find anything that sounds like it online. All of these recipes have too many ingredients. She definitely didn’t put mustard in it. Or eggs. And there’s no way there were bread crumbs.
One night after Thanksgiving dinner several years ago I stood helping Dad in the kitchen with the dishes. “Why does Mom make broccoli casserole every year? Do we even like broccoli casserole?” I said to him. “Well, no, not really, but it’s tradition,” he laughed, “We have to have it, even if no one eats it.”
Tradition. Every year for as long as I can remember, we have had the same broccoli casserole at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. I believe the recipe came actually came from my Grammy, probably from some old article cut out of a newspaper or cookbook. Wherever it came from, it became ours.
I hated it growing up. I couldn’t stand the orangey-brown color that it would turn or the way it smelled. It especially grossed me out on the days following Thanksgiving, when Mom and Dad would eat “leftover sandwiches” and pile everything from the previous night’s dinner onto a Lender’s bagel. But it was an omnipresent dish at holiday gatherings, even traveling with us several times in the car to my cousin Leigh’s house when she’d host us.
When Mom was in the hospital, I had a running list of the things I needed to ask her/get done. I know, how does one come up with the list of things do because their mother is dying and we’re running out of time? Much to my surprise, it was mostly filled with simple tasks. Things like:
- Call American Airlines to get the miles from the credit card changed over to my name
- Cancel the New York Times crossword puzzle
- Join the Carcinoid Cafe group on Facebook
- Pick up the jewelry at Dallas’s
- Ask about wedding dress & veil
- Listen to hymns from Diana’s funeral to figure out which one it was she liked
- Get broccoli casserole recipe
I didn’t accomplish a lot of the things on there. I think that I thought there was going to be more time. We can listen to hymns later. I’ll ask about the broccoli casserole tomorrow. I just kept putting things off, thinking I’d have time in an hour or in a day to ask. But I didn’t have the time. All of a sudden it was too late to ask.
Where were you when you first found out you were pregnant with me? Did you get morning sickness? How did you know Dad was the one? Do you think that it’s a good idea for me to move to London? Will you disown me if I get married in a mermaid cut gown — I know you hate them. What is your recipe for broccoli casserole?
I had wanted to ask her to write me a book. A journal I guess is a better word. A journal with everything in there that I would need to know. Everything from getting married to becoming a mother to dealing with schools to.. well I don’t know. Whatever she wanted to tell me. I wanted her to write it down so that I would always have it, always have her advice. And I was too chicken shit to do it. I don’t know why. I try not to regret anything because I think that regret is such a negative feeling and a waste of time. But if there’s anything that I would say I regret, this is on the list.
I had also planned to make an appointment at a bridal boutique so that I could go try on wedding dresses with her. I’m single as all hell, but when I think of life without my mom, picking out my wedding dress is something that comes to the front of my mind. I can’t imagine making a decision like that without her.
She died at the end of July. I had a trip planned home for the 4th of July, and I knew that she wasn’t doing well, so I thought, well maybe I’ll call Rebecca’s and see if they’d let us come in. I knew it would be emotional, and we’d both cry, and I’d probably get snot and mascara all over a white dress. But that was ok. I didn’t end up getting around to it. It wouldn’t have mattered though, because by the time I got home for that trip she had already been admitted to the hospital.
Anyhow, I digress. There was a note on my phone with the things I needed and wanted to talk about. And it didn’t all happen. And sometimes that makes me feel like shit, and like I wish I could turn back time for just one afternoon to sit with her and asked her everything. I know I won’t ever erase it, and I am able to find some solace in it. Sometimes I like to open it and read it, just to remember some of the conversations we had those final days. I wrote down bits and things that she said. There was one afternoon where we were talking about a family member that had done something awful…
“Everybody is what they’re capable of. And some are more capabale than others.”
I don’t know if those were her words or if she had read them somewhere before. Knowing my mother, they were probably her own and spoken from the heart. They make me feel strong every time I read them.
She died on Sunday morning. It was peaceful. It wasn’t like I thought it would be, but then when does anything ever turn out how you expect it to? When you lose someone, I’ve learned there are a series of things to be done. The immediate things include nurses to alert, phone calls to make, tears to be shed. In no proper order. When I watched the last breath leave my mother’s body on that Sunday morning sitting at her bedside, a brief moment of panic washed over me.
All of a sudden this woman who had given me life, who had been at and on my side for nearly 26 years of my life was gone. She was no more. All of that came rushing in at full speed, but then I remembered myself. Where I was, who was there, what needed to happen. I silently stood and held her hand as tears filled my eyes and called Dad and my brother over, too overwhelmed by everything that I was feeling to say the words out loud.
We stood there together, as a family, with Mom for one last time. Julia, my brother’s girlfriend was also in the room. I looked up and said we should get the nurse. She suggested that she would go, and quietly slipped out of the room, giving us another moment together to process that life was truly to never be the same.
There were phone calls to be made. We divided them out. Dad and I. We called who needed to know immediately. My uncle and cousin came to back the hospital room up. I wrote something up for her Facebook, because she would have wanted everyone who was praying for her to know. We had been there for 3 weeks and had enough crap to fill up 3 cars when all was said and done.
We walked out of the hospital to the parking garage after signing the papers that needed signing and a whole slew of other things about 2 hours later. We were all in a daze. We stood in the garage and stared at each other.
“Why don’t you all come over for dinner around 6:30?”
That night I made her chicken piccata. It’s one of the only proper recipes that I can make from scratch completely from memory. I remember feeling so confused, standing in the kitchen in an apron, covered with flour, with an open bottle of rose, looking at Leigh and saying, “I didn’t think it would hurt this much. It physically feels like I’ve been hit by a bus.” She nodded, knowing only too well the pain I felt. She lost her mother to cancer at age 27.
But as our little family gathered around, we suddenly realized that, somehow, we were going to be alright. I cooked, and we drank, and we ate, and we laughed, and we cried, and I was able to feel useful because I could feed this family and make them feel OK. I could be like Mom.
This year I’ll make the broccoli casserole, and I’ll wing it. I’ll make it all, except the Turkey, which Dad will do because he’s always done it. I’ll stand in the kitchen all afternoon and think of Mom, and how Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday. And I’ll cry, and I’ll cook, and I’ll hold us all together just like she used to, and somehow it will be OK. Even if I mess it all up, it will somehow all be OK.
“Everybody is what they’re capable of. And some are more capabale than others.”
2 thoughts on “Love, Loss, and What I Cooked”
Absolutely brutiful. Just so lovely… the best part is you were there with her through to the end, and did the undoable with such grace. What a lovely family. Thank you for sharing this xo
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