Taste Again and Remember: Thoughts on (not quite) losing the ones we love
I’m making this pot roast from a recipe my Gram Rena gave me years ago. I can’t remember if she dictated it or if I copied her own handwritten card onto one of my own, but either way, I can hear her voice and see her personality in every line. I’m fighting tears with every chop—and I haven’t even gotten to the onions. My Gram has dementia—and I miss her every time I remember something of hers that she cannot.
She isn’t gone yet, but somehow she is. When her mind began to fail, she would get frustrated because there was enough of her left to know it. Now she forgets even to care that she forgets. She seems happier now, in the no-man’s land of her mind. But for us, still in the here, it’s so hard. Because we remember what she forgets: Her.
So I read her words and follow her instructions and hear her inflections in my heart. It’s so simple, food—you smell it, taste it; it fills you, sustains you—but then it’s not. Because it’s also a craving, a necessity, an experience, a memory. Why do scents and tastes call our memories more clearly to mind than do most any other experience of sense? You smell the cologne and remember your Grandpa who died when you were 10. You taste the pot roast, and you remember your Gram who hasn’t died but is gone. I think it’s because—and this is very scientific—what we breathe and taste get inside us.
You see it, and it’s gone; you hear it, and it’s ceased; you feel it, and then you don’t. But you breathe it deep into your lungs, and you taste it all down your throat. They stay in your cells, those consumed memories. And I wonder if maybe that’s why, on the night he knew it was his last chance to be with his loved ones, Jesus told them to eat and drink to remember him. Maybe he wanted them to be able to smell and taste his memory, deep down, long after they couldn’t see or hear or touch him anymore. Maybe he knew that the ways they had grown accustomed to relating to him wouldn’t be enough to sustain them when there was no face to see, no words to hear, no side to touch. Maybe they would eat and drink and not just remember in mind, but know in soul, that even though he was gone, he somehow wasn’t.
And as I cut my onions, I let myself tear up. Not because they’ve released a gas to irritate my eyes, but because I inhale the memory of the woman who told me to cut them into slivers. She has prepared and tasted this meal so many times before; I know that when her mind is freed at last, she will taste again and remember.
Soon, my family and I will enjoy this bountiful roast. And we will taste deeply that she is gone, but somehow not.