My father-in-law died on February 25, 2007. He had been in failing health and had memory disease. When family members learned he had been admitted to the hospital we knew the end was near. Dad stayed in the hospital for a week and was finally returned to his apartment in assisted living for end-of-life care.
A few days later — two days after my daughter was killed in a car crash — he succumbed to pneumonia. Two deaths on one weekend sent shock waves through the family. Though family members were overcome with grief, we could only grieve for one person at a time. Of course we cried for dad, but most of our tears were for a young mother who died too soon. Family members decided to have a memorial in honor of dad at a later date.
How could we honor his life?
Nothing brought dad more pleasure than having dinner with his family. He often took us out to dinner at his favorite restaurant. The staff of the family-owned restaurant knew dad and looked after him well. Dad was profoundly hard of hearing so they seated us at a corner table when possible. The servers also accommodated to dad’s unusual orders.
One server asked dad what he would like and he replied, “Tissues.” She returned with a mound of tissues on a tray. Dad used to enjoy thick soups and chowders, but towards the end of his life he wanted broth. Since he had forgotten the word broth dad ordered “soup without the chow,” a phrase we had to translate. Minutes later, the server would return with a steaming bowl of broth and salty crackers.
Family members thought a Favorite Foods Dinner would be a fitting way to honor dad’s life. We had three requirements for the dinner. First, the food preparation and clean-up had to be easy. Second, we had to include some fun. Last, the dinner had to be meaningful. Six months after dad’s death we held the dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s home.
A large photo of dad greeted family members when they walked in the door. For easy clean-up we used paper plates, napkins, ad cups. As for dinner, there was hardly a healthy calorie in sight. The menu: Kentucky Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw, smoked oysters on crackers, cheese puffs, fresh fruit (for a few vitamins), chocolate marshmallow cookies and ice cream.
I typed a list of dad’s sayings and gave one to each person. Though dad was no longer with us his sayings revealed his personality, ethics, and humor. Some of them:
* After age 40 you should back up your car as little as possible.
* Take credit for what you do.
* This is going to be the best trip ever!
* Money spent on education is never wasted.
* I don’t want to be neatenized.
But I forgot one of dad’s most famous sayings, “When are we going to have fat and salt?” My husband and I had dad for dinner many times and I cooked nutritious, low-fat meals — a fact that did not escape his notice. Dad never complained about dinner, but his question was really his complaint. Our Favorite Foods Dinner ended with a slide show and the photos of dad with his family sparked tears and laughter.
Have you lost a loved one? Consider honoring him or her with a Favorite Foods Dinner. Family members will be glad to help you with the arrangements and menu. You may even indulge in fat and salt. Then sit around the table and tell stores of the person you knew and loved so much.
Copyright 2007 by Harriet Hodgson