When a loved one is going through a difficult time or has suffered a loss, sending flowers or bringing them a homecooked meal are thoughtful gestures. But here's another idea that could be even more helpful: groceries.
We have been working our way through the archives of TimesTalks podcasts from the New York Times, and we're especially enjoying the food-related interviews from late 2008. In an interview with Lynn Hirschberg, Nigella Lawson spoke about a very difficult time in her life, when her husband was dying of cancer. In what she called "an act of great kindness," a friend stopped by her home and left bags of groceries.
"I opened my door on Saturday morning and there was just these bags of shopping. You can't make decisions either when you're grieving or when you're very stressed. If she'd said, 'What do you need?' I wouldn't have known. She just did it. And those small acts which we think of belonging to village life belong to all our lives. I think those things are important things to do for one another."
For someone who enjoys cooking, this could be a great help (otherwise, a prepared meal is probably better). Because not only are you saving them from an errand and providing food, you're giving them something to do. And that can be an even greater gift. As Lawson also said, it can be very helpful to occupy your hands in times of stress.
"I'm such an avid reader and I'm always reading, but in times of great distress I can't focus to read or I can't really have a useful thought. But I can knead some bread or I can chop vegetables for a stew, or I can make a soup. So I think it's very important somehow to be absorbed and active but not challenged. In the modern world, everything's meant to be challenging and I feel like being alive is challenging enough. Why would you want everything else to be harder?"
To keep things as unchallenging as possible, we'd suggest putting together groceries with a couple of specific meals in mind. And consider the kind of food the person you're buying them for enjoys making. Do they have a favorite stew, casserole or pasta dish? Why not give them everything they need to make it?
The TimesTalks interview with Nigella Lawson from Dec. 8, 2008 is available at iTunes.
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