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Catering to Grief

This is the second of a two-part series in which our General Manager, Ashe Lockhart, talks about the death of his father (part 1) and about grief and the family luncheon after the burial service (in this part 2). This is just us sharing who we are and giving a look at our real lives and how the gritty reality of life impacts and interacts with our business.

– Chef Sam

In part 1 of this series, I wrote a tribute to my father, who died last month. Make no mistake, he died. He didn’t “pass away” or “transition” or any other euphemism we use to shield ourselves from the harshness of unpleasant experiences. Dad himself might have said “seek the truth in all things and know that the truth makes a bloody entrance.”

In this part 2, I want to scratch the surface of a discussion on grief and say a little bit about the week between his death and the burial and how that whole experience was surreal, the sensations so odd, and how the simplest gestures took on unexpected significance.

Dad died shortly after midnight on a Tuesday. My mother, sister, and I stayed up until the wee hours talking in the room with him, almost as if he were there listening (and other times as if he weren’t!). When the funeral director came to transport his body, I assisted with the preparation, tidying him up a bit, moving him from his bed to the transport gurney, then a kiss on the cheek before his face was covered for the last time. It was the least I could do, and it wasn’t nearly enough. Not nearly.

The next day, an out-of-town sibling came to be with us for a day before he had to fly out on a trip. We all had lunch, visited, told some stories, and talked about plans for a service. It’s not like we got anything done, we just talked and stared into the distance.

Over the next few days, I wrote a tribute to Dad for Facebook because I needed to find the words to be able to at least begin reconciling the experiences and emotions of a lifetime with this man and to have something to say when people express condolences that inevitably seem to call for a response. This triggered a hard crying spell, which I desperately needed. I felt like the environment, my body, my head, everything was humming with a low-pitched drone.

We engaged in the process of “making arrangements,” another euphemism that means requesting services from the funeral home – things like whether to hold a viewing, the cremation process, floral arrangements, choosing an urn, identifying the burial site, obtaining a marker – and we realized that the business of death is an actual business. I spent a day with my mother writing the obituary that would go in the paper (noting that the paper gets paid generously in the business of death).

The day before the burial service, it was decided that we would have a small luncheon at my home. I called Chef Sam and placed myself at his mercy for appropriate relief without a second to spare, and I never even gave it a moment’s thought after that, in spite of abundant expressions of anxiety from other family members.

The day of the service, all the siblings and our mother gathered at Elmwood Cemetery on a cool, grey, rainy day. Things at the burial service went vaguely as planned. Nobody noticed discrepancies in the plan because no one really knew what the plan was anyway. It was nice to see the small gathering of people – a few cousins, some childhood friends, and a small number of people who outlived my 93-year-old father who would and could venture out in a world of COVID.

Then we gathered at my house with my mother, brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, one brother’s incredibly tight gaggle of lifelong friends, and a complement of spouses and significant others. As our group settled in and mingled, the food arrived. Chef Sam’s Assistant Chef, Leland, took charge to unpack and set up.

They prepared a lasagna tray and a meatball tray, a glorious salad, bread, a few sides, and snacks. It took a while to set up. Leland expressed his condolences and earnestly and sincerely told me how much it meant to him to be included in our little gathering of family by bringing the food and being among us. It couldn’t have been clearer that he meant what he was saying. Yes, he really is a man that kind and that sincere.

As we broke bread and visited for several hours, the little crowd dwindling slowly and reluctantly, we couldn’t have been served better food in a king’s hall. The aroma of Italian food was a balm for a weary heart before I even took the first bite. The warmth and richness contributed to a familiar, comfortable conviviality. The food brought much-needed nutrition to hungry mourners – it became the centerpiece of our time together remembering my father and his life.

Thus was proven just how central good food is to these important times when we gather to experience and share our lives together. Whether through laughter or tears, one bite after another, we are bound together. And thus was also born the idea that our little company is perfectly well suited to support these occasions of grief – just as we can be there for a baby shower, a wedding, a graduation, an anniversary, and a spectacular dinner party. You could call it: cradle to grave catering.

And lest you think there’s something unseemly about capitalizing on my father’s death, I want to assure you: he was a capitalist, and I believe he would be tickled to know that somehow his death led to an unexpected opportunity for people he cared about.