Over the past couple of months, my family has been going through a fairly difficult time. My husbands Grandfather – Chet – was diagnosed with a very aggressive Leukemia. At 90 years young, Gramp – as he is affectionately known – decided that he did not want to receive any medical treatment for the condition and that he just wanted to be home for the duration of his life. We were told that he would have 2 to 4 months left – if we were lucky. Anyway you slice it – the end of life is a hard time for everyone in the family. It is not easy to watch someone that you love so much dwindle away. Nonetheless, this is a part of life and the stress that comes a long with this hard process can really derail even the most dedicated.
When Gramp was diagnosed in January it became a reality that he was not going to be with us for much longer. Like I mentioned – the Leukemia was aggressive and because he refused to have any interventions – nature was going to take it’s course. You always want to follow and carry out someone last wishes even though it might be the hardest thing you have to do. So, his family agreed and life starting changing very rapidly. Personally, it was hard in my own house. I wanted my husband to be able to spend time with his Grandparents – but they do live about two hours away. After a long week of work and everything else that we have going on – being home alone with the kids for an over night sometimes is a lot to handle. However, it was important to me that they got to have this time so over the course of the past two months he has been making lots of trips up to their home.
It seems that whenever something like this happens – food becomes the center of attention. Well, obviously the person and their loved ones are the center of attention – but food becomes comfort. Typically you bring something to the house or have snacks out for people who are visiting. Of course – people want to bring food to help those who are grieving not have to worry about making a meal for their family. The food choices vary from healthy to not so healthy. People go for comfort. Comfort food is called comfort food for a reason. In the several visits that I made with my husband to visit his Gramp they had pizza, chicken tenders, chips, fries, and lots of sweets. To be fair about the only thing that Gramp would eat were sweets so naturally there were many around the house in hopes that he would eat them. Even in his healthiest, he had a real sweet tooth. I love this about him because it gave me an excuse to bake for him and I did!!
When stressed – eating was ALWAYS a go-to for me. I could easily polish off an entire bag of Oreos, eat more than my fair share of pizza, and I also would hit up the fried foods. I basically would binge eat in an effort to suppress my feelings. I know now that even then, this was not an effective strategy. After a binge, I would always feel incredibly guilty for eating what I ate. It was a viscous cycle, really. The worst part of eating your feelings is that you are never really satisfied regardless how much you eat. It never really surprised me how much I could eat – but it surprised me how often I found myself eating my emotions.
Gramp’s passing this week is the second significant death that I am dealing with since I’ve had surgery. The first happened right after I had surgery. I really could not have eaten even if I had wanted to. However 15 months out of surgery – I definitely can eat more and sometimes feel lots of hunger. Sometimes the head hunger takes over and I have to talk myself out of it. The pain of this loss is stinging. I began to notice cravings in the beginning of the week – something I haven’t felt in a long time. Did I really need to eat something sweet or was this just emotional? Sometimes you really feel like you need it….like nothing else in the whole world will make you feel better than that cookie, pie, or cake. It’s so irrational. You know that you are not hungry and you know that eating __________ is not going to make you feel better in anyway. Yet, you still crave it.
I have realized that for many years emotional eating became a way of life for me. In order to cope with anything I would stuff myself with whatever was available. Instead of talking about what was bothering me I would head right to the refrigerator or kitchen cabinet. The emptiness still remained. All the empty calories, in the end, would just make me feel guilty. The emotional aspect of loss and stress can add a lot extra calories to your day, week, or weekend. I found that the eating actually led to more depression in the long run.
It has taken me a long time to realize that eating is not the best way to make myself feel better. When emotions take over, I am now finding that it’s best to drink water, have a shake, or even go for a walk. Getting to the gym or going for a run – if the weather permits – is what really makes me feel best. Since I’ve had surgery eating is not my focus anymore. It really surprised me that I started craving carbs shortly after we found out that Gramp passed. It was like an ingrained natural response. I ignored it and kept on moving. For the rest of the week I’ve been trying to stick to my plan as best as I can. To be totally honest, I’ve had a couple extra spoonfuls of peanut butter and a few extra handfuls of nuts. If you are going to pick something to stress eat – I suppose these options are better than fries or chips.
We met tonight for a big family dinner. Spaghetti and sauce, delish homemade rolls, and a big salad were on the menu. I made the salad and a big gluten free carrot cake. I also made sure to bring my own meal since I don’t eat spaghetti. I had the salad – which was loaded with fresh veggies and goat cheese. I added some chicken and walnuts and made myself a good meal. I had to have a bite of the carrot cake – for good measure – but that’s all I had and I was satisfied.
Dealing with this loss has been a challenge our week and our lives have been flipped upside down and it’s been hard to stay the course. In the long run, it’s been better for me to talk to my hubby and his family about it instead of eating the pain. Going forward, it will continue to be tough – and I might slip here and there, but I have the knowledge and skills to help myself get through it a better way.
Chet was an amazing kind and generous man. He was a tremendous role model and I am so lucky that I had him in my life for as long as I was blessed to. Here’s to you Gramp….love you to infinity and beyond.