When Mrs. Mary Alice passed away in “The Home I Love,” Elloree, South Carolina, food came from every corner of the town and beyond. Casseroles, deviled eggs, fried chicken, fruit bowls, casseroles, desserts, ham, congealed salads ... and casseroles.
The food was so plentiful that it had to be divided among three additional households' refrigerators and freezers to store it all. My in-laws volunteered their appliances. Food filled the shelves to overflowing. I don’t know if Mary Alice’s family got to eat all the food that was shared so lovingly, but food was the one thing they did not need to think about. It was there in abundance.
I never know what’s going to come out of anyone’s mouth on Sunday morning. Anywhere from five to eight of us gather for Sunday school. The conversation is free-ranging and eclectic, each of us coming from different perspectives. There are no shy voices, so discussion is lively and animated.
Last Sunday, as our teacher helped us identify how we handle losses, much of what people shared were losses other than death. The loss of a job. The loss of a marriage. The loss of a promotion. The loss of a friendship. The loss of an election.
Then Katie, the effervescent spirit in the room, surprised us all when she said, “Those are like death without casseroles!”
Katie says things like that, and then she laughs before she shares the depth of what she has just said.
“Think about it. You lose your job, but no one brings casseroles. People don’t know what to do. They feel sorry for you, but they don’t bring casseroles.
“Your favorite golf buddy suddenly backs off for no apparent reason, ending a friendship that has lasted for decades. The disappointment is written all over your face. People back away, unsure of how to respond, but they don’t bring casseroles.”
Katie’s husband, our teacher, looked at her with a grin and repeated, “death without casseroles,” as if it was the most astounding proclamation he had ever heard.
Katie has a point, however. There are myriads of losses that invade our lives that do not earn casseroles, yet they affect our lives deeply and sometimes irretrievably. They interrupt our expectations and create a personal chaos characterized by disappointment, discouragement, defeat and frustration. They also bring along a sadness that is hard to shake.
But no one brings a casserole.
The world beats up on us time and time again. We’ve been taught to be tough, to take it like a man, to be resilient, to bounce back, to hold in the fear and anxiety. It should not be that way. Any loss needs to be acknowledged. A handwritten note, a phone call, a text message, an invitation to lunch are simple ways to acknowledge someone’s loss and to offer encouragement.
Ross McCammon writes, “… encouragement isn’t cute—it’s fraught and powerful. When you’re encouraging, you’re instilling courage. That’s huge. And that’s hard.”
Difficult or not, we all have the opportunity and the ability to help someone who has suffered a death without casseroles. We don’t even have to turn on the oven.