A couple months ago, I was seriously wrestling with some major life questions and the impending uncertainty that our family will be facing in just under a year. For us, one of those questions has been whether or not to try to have another child while we have very good insurance through the military. This has been a question that we’ve been bandying about since our littlest was only a few months old, since we’ve known that the transition to civilian life was appearing just over the horizon.
On one particular day I was thinking about it very specifically, and mulling over how incomplete our family sometimes feels to me. I’ve always assumed that this feeling was simply because I want to have more children, but on this particular day as I watched my thoughts and feelings on the topic, I was hit by an unexpected realization.
Our family feels incomplete because it is: we lost a child, and after losing that child, how can our family ever feel truly complete again? Certainly we could have more children, but the reality is that no matter how many we have, there will always be this missing person. There will always be this space in our lives where our beautiful child once lived. I don’t feel that it would be wise to build a life going forward that is based on attempting to appease this sense of incompletion, or that tries to ignore the reality of that space left behind.
It may well be that one day we will try to have another child, or maybe several more – I really don’t know. But for the moment, I am appreciating the invitation I’ve been given to learn to live with the space and incomplete feeling in my life, appreciating the beauty that is our family right now in this moment.
Now I know that talking about the loss of a family member is a very particular and poignant type of loss, one that we don’t often like to compare to other types, but for today, I want to relate it back to celiac disease, so please hear me out. (Also realize that going forward in this post, I’m not talking about the choice to have children or not, and people are certainly not in the same realm as objects; I only want to continue with the theme of loss.)
When you’re diagnosed with a life-changing disease like celiac disease, regardless of the relief you feel, regardless of the good health that follows as you figure out how to live this new lifestyle, there is also a profound loss. I’ve talked about it before, and I will continue to talk about it because loss is so central to our experience as humans in this world. Unexamined loss: loss that is given no space in our lives, will influence how we live our lives and relate to the people and things around us.
If we are working to fill any whiff of emptiness in our lives, we soon end up in a mess. We can end up with too many things, and in particular, we can end up with the most difficult type of clutter: the collections of sentimental items that feel impossible to let go of. We imbue these items with meanings that often become inescapably laced with guilt, and then letting go of them becomes an almost impossible feat. This also applies to our food.
In celiac disease, if we let our experience of loss define our experience of the disease, we can end up hanging onto foods that absolutely must be eliminated for us to heal. Aside from out and out cheating, this sense of loss can lead us to seek to replace missing foods with even unhealthier and more processed versions in order to keep our sense of who we are and our lifestyle intact.
Replacing a processed, gluten-filled diet with a processed, low-nutrient gluten-free diet will not bring us healing. Not physically, and not emotionally. It will not allow us to thrive.
But if we can move into the discomfort and ambiguity of this loss, if we can give the loss and grief the space, and give ourselves the space to experience the expanse of that emptiness, we will find that healthier, simpler alternatives emerge, and that there is room to consider and experiment with them. It’s okay to treat ourselves to some of those replacement foods now and then, but in order to really heal, we need to really let go of what our life was before and then decide what we want our lives to look like moving forward. We then can slowly build the the life that we really want for ourselves – in this case, the diet that truly helps us to thrive.
This coming year, in anticipation of this big life change that will be taking place next holiday season, I will be working to really simplify my meals and the way that I eat. I’m doing this in an effort to cultivate more simplicity in our home, as well as to continue to build on my increasingly good health and free up some of the time that I’ve dedicated every day to preparing food since my diagnosis. The other major piece for me will be attempting to reduce our grocery budget significantly, because as anyone who has been through a major job transition knows, income can change dramatically, and we are anticipating needing to conserve our resources a little more carefully.
So my new series will be focusing on how to bring all my food lifestyle goals together and ultimately simplify this critical area of my life. I will be focusing on whole, unprocessed foods, simple but satisfying preparations, and lots of flavor. Where I have mainly focused on collecting recipes from other wonderful sites and books and I will continue to do so, I will also be encouraging my own creativity and doing a little more of my own experimenting with my meals and recipes to fit them into cohesive meal plans that work better for my schedule and budget.
I hope that you will look forward to joining me in the new year for my new project, and that you will comment if there are areas of your eating plan that you feel you need to simplify and focus on this year. If I can be of help to you, I would love to do so.
Loss is one of those things we don’t cope well with as a society. We’ve become unused to dealing with grief, we face it so rarely and collectively we want to hide it because it hurts to think of it.
I think of T, and your family often. He is very much loved and remembered, and made an impact on so many lives.