I remember at some early therapy session, back when I wondered how much of my fee was spent on tissue, that I started going through the list. You know the list, the list of things that you lost in addition to your baby. As if that wasn't enough, I also seemed to have misplaced joy, happiness, fun, the ability to communicate with others, a sex drive, a flying poo about my health and hygiene, and taste.
I lost my ability to taste.
"I lost my ability to see in color," admitted my therapist, referring to the period after her mother died. "It was as if the world was black and white."
I'm not sure when I became a foodie. I think perhaps it was there, latent, with my careful reading of Bread and Jam for Francis and how I fantasized about elaborate and difficult lunches with doilies and salt and pepper shakers. I lived on escargot when I went to France at age six. I dreamed up elaborate picnics with mini quiches in High School. I fell in love with a foodie, and we spent our Honeymoon at a cooking school in Italy. We were the odd couple who rarely ate out, made almost everything from scratch, and relished trying new recipes. When we moved into our new house, in our new city, we were so relieved to finally be in a place where people knew and loved their food. We started a raging debate in the cell phone store on our third day here when we casually asked where to get the best . . . I honestly can't remember what we asked about. But everyone in the store had an opinion. We felt as if we were in heaven.
I'm not sure when it hit me, that food was sawdust. The first few weeks after Maddy died I lived solely on food that people brought over: cookies for breakfast and lunch, and then I'd pick a bit at a well-intentioned dinner, announce that I was tired and going to bed, and retreat upstairs to cry. After the gifted food and the freezer stash ran out, I segued into cereal. That's it, cereal. I honestly can't remember what I fed Bella or what she would have been eating at that point in time -- I'm guessing a slew of frozen chicken nuggets and mac&cheez. My favorite bourbon barbecued chicken may as well have been a soggy bowl of bran. Everything tasted like cardboard.
The only thing I could barely perceive was coffee. I'm not sure if it was the taste or smell per se, maybe just the jolt of caffeine or now that I think about it, the mere act of normal routine and comfort of holding a warm mug . There were months where the only thing making it possible to swing my feet off the bed and onto the floor was the thought of making coffee. I drank a lot of it. I figured it was better than other things I could be drinking. At some point I realized this probably wasn't the greatest thing I could be doing for myself and decided that in between cups, I needed to drink three glasses of water (and say three hail Marys). It's a small measure of guilt I carry with me to this day, even though I never make it beyond two.
We didn't eat out. Not because I didn't want to, or we couldn't, but because I didn't want to waste money on food I wouldn't enjoy. It's not that I stopped eating, it's that grief masked flavor and thereby erased one of my greatest joys. My great grandmother lived to be 100, and became extremely depressed right before her death because she lost the ability to taste her food. I got where she was coming from.
"I remember the day, very vividly," said my therapist, "when I realized I could see colors again."
I'm not sure there was a day, a hammer on the head, or a gelato I could point to, but there was a slow creep. And a year and four months after Maddy died, a friend took my husband and I out to dinner at a very good restaurant and I realized through the multiple courses and accompanying wine that I could taste again. I could discern the nuances in the wine, I could decode a sauce. I could enjoy a dish simply sitting over it and inhaling the aroma without even taking a bite.
I could experience food for the first time in over a year. It was as if someone colorized the black and white movie my taste-buds had been living in. Lettuce became green, capers became salty, coffee became lovely.
Appreciating food again wasn't the pinnacle of recovery by any stretch of the imagination; I still wasn't getting the whole Joy thing. But it helped considerably to know that grief hadn't completely eradicated something I loved so much, because losing my daughter was miserable enough.
What -- if anything -- did you lose in addition to your child(ren)? Have you found it again?