Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Yup...I Went Here!

I went to a funeral yesterday for a lovely woman who I have known and enjoyed for the past 30 years.  Her daughters and I are good friends and Grandma Jean has been a role model and mentor in my life for many, many years.  She was well loved by all who knew her, as evidenced by the tremendous number of people who attended her funeral and the meal afterwards.

For those that aren't familiar with "Baptist" funerals, the way they go is that you say your goodbyes to the dearly departed, cry a little, laugh a little, and then EAT...a LOT!!!  Funerals + Friends = FOOD!  A decidedly bad equation for someone like me working on a new, healthier lifestyle! That picture over there is the actual table of food that Grandma Jean's friends provided for the meal after her funeral.  I Photoshopped the picture a bit because I'm learning how to play around with effects (that one is called "soft focus" in case you're interested!), but also because if I hadn't, what you'd have seen would perhaps stun you.  The gymnasium at the church had a row of tables down its length, and on those tables were plates, aluminum pans, casserole dishes, and crock pots FILLED with delightful, delicious food.  Ham, roast beef, pasta, salads, fried chicken, roasted pork, biscuits, and enough deviled eggs to make your head spin lined the length of this spread.  And then there was the dessert table!  Pies, cakes, cookies, brownies...a true sugar fest!

Although I used the healthier principles that I've been embracing over the past 18 months, taking only small portions of the foods I really wanted, avoiding higher calorie temptations, I'll be the first one to admit that I overate today.  In fact,  my tummy was STILL full nearly 3 hours later.  And the thought came to me as I sat on the couch, uncomfortable in my own jeans...why did I eat that much?  The answer may challenge you, as it's challenging me while its spinning around inside my head, working its way into my understanding.

I believe I overate yesterday at that funeral for a few key reasons that I can identify...

1.  Comfort.  The table at Grandma Jean's wake was filled with comfort food, the kind that just makes your mouth water and makes you forget whatever it is that was making you worried, or nervous, or upset.  The kind that draws you into better memories.  For me, that food is fried chicken  and biscuits.  Any time I see that, I can take myself back in my mind to Grandma and Grandpa's house.  I can smell her fried chicken easily and see her at the stove cooking it.  Her biscuits were the "melt in your mouth" variety - the kind where the ingredients don't need to be measured because you know just the right texture you need your dough to be for the biscuits to come out perfectly every time.  Food brings comfort, and at a funeral, comfort is needed.

2.  Distraction.  Eating was a distraction from all the other feelings that we were experiencing at that funeral yesterday - loss, hurt, grief, loneliness.  Sharing a plate of food with my friends gave me something else to focus on as we had our meal together rather than the emptiness inside that Grandma Jean's loss made us all feel.  We could avoid those feelings and instead talk about how delicious the food was, what were the best things on our plate, which of the deviled eggs was the best recipe (Why is it that just about every lady over age 60 knows how to make those?!)

3.  Social Setting/Expectation.  I have been friends with most of the people I saw at Grandma Jean's funeral for the past 30 years.  As I look back over the times that we've spent together, I have to say that food, unfortunately, has played a big role in our social gatherings.  Whether it's for funerals like yesterday, or just regular run-of-the-mill events like pot lucks, Wednesday night dinners at church, youth group socials...you name it - food has always been a big part of the social expectation.  I ate mindlessly yesterday.  I began consciously taking very small portions...but my plate was heaped to overflowing by the time I made it down that table.  And I ate it all.  It's just what we "do" in the group of friends I have.

I'm going to guess that the situation I just described is not one completely unfamiliar to you.  But does it always have to be that way?

Here's the portion of today's blog post where I am going to channel my grandmother (who I lovingly called "Peanuts") and do what she referred to as "goin' from preachin' to meddlin'!"  I won't be upset if some of you bail out at this point.  Brave readers may continue on. However if you do, just watch your toes...as they may be stepped on  You've been warned in advance...

What's been challenging me about this over the past 24 hours is that just because it's ALWAYS been this way is no reason for it to always continue to be this way.  Someone could...and maybe even SHOULD...make a change..."move the cheese", if you're familiar with that concept.  (GREAT book, by the way...LOTS of great stuff in there...grab a copy and read it!)

Just because comfort is needed at a funeral...does it have to involve food?  Could we find a way to express our feelings of grief, sorrow, support, understanding...all those complicated emotions...differently?  Perhaps find a way that doesn't throw an entire day's worth of calories on a Chinet plate and then go back for second helpings? 

Just because distraction in helpful in emotionally-laden situations...does it have to require eating?  Could we find ways to occupy our minds differently, or better yet, just allow ourselves to corporately FEEL the feelings...be vulnerable with our friends and get past the strength of the emotions?

Just because social situations have always revolved around food in my set of friends...do they have to continue to be meal-oriented?  Could we engage ourselves in activities that don't require four-course feeding frenzies and still have fun?

I realize that some of you are crying sacrilege at this moment!  For many of us, myself included, preparing a meal for someone who's sick, or lost a job, or just had a new child, or has suffered a loss of a family member, is our way to communicate LOVE to them.  But friends...I can't afford to have love expressed TO me or BY me with baked beans with brown sugar and bacon anymore! 

And really...I don't want the FOOD anyway...I want the FEELING.  When I'm the one who's sad or sick, I want the FRIENDSHIP...the LOVE...not the lasagna!  But when you bring me the lasagna as your expression of friendship and love...I eat it!  Therein lies the dilemma.  To not eat your lasagna would possibly communicate to you that I don't care about your offering of love and support, when nothing could be further from the truth.  But to eat your lasagna piles calories on this body that I just can't afford to carry around anymore.

I have to tell you...and to those who know me in real life, this won't be any major shocker...I am a very emotional person.  I wear my heart on my sleeve and often get it trampled on because of that, honestly.  I am a fairly transparent,what-you-see-is-what-you-get kinda person.  I have a few very close friends who know all there is to know about me...and many, many friends and acquaintances that know almost everything.  I hold very little back, as perhaps you've noticed if you're at all familiar with this blog. 

With me being this way, I must say I am constantly surprised by the very many people who do not operate the same way, who contain almost every semblance of emotion, rather than expressing it and then couch that choice with phrases like "professional distance" or "this is not the time or place".  I try to understand that choice, and honestly, at times, I envy them the ability to make it and stick with it.  My feelings spill out far too easily and often for comfort...my own, and other people's!

But here's the bottom line for me.  If I'm emotionally and socially eating because I choose not to deal with the emotions, express them, manage them...or because I'm too lazy to find other things to occupy my friends' and my time together in social settings...then for me, I am making one of the most UNHEALTHY decisions I can possibly make.  Those kinds of decisions propelled me to morbid obesity.  And I will NOT continue to consciously make them any longer.  I can't.  I'll die eventually if I allow it to go on unchecked.  Literally. 

So, I'm going to be chewing over this overeating I did yesterday for a long time, wrestling with my choices until I master my mind and come to better ones.  The next time I am in an emotionally charged situation, I don't want to make the same mistakes I did at Grandma Jean's wake.  Even more than that, though, I want to be the kind of person that encourages my friends in their WELLNESS, including their emotional health.  I have some serious thinking to do so that yesterday's actions are not repeated.  And I likely have a conversation or two to have with some well-meaning friends about changing some social habits that are solely centered around eating rather than just enjoying each others' company as friends.  Perhaps this will be Grandma Jean's enduring legacy in my life...that the day we said goodbye to her will be the day I also said goodbye to some of my most unhealthy habits and forged new and better ones.

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