The Perfectly-Prepared Dinner that Failed

Jan 242011
 

I planned a dinner last week, hoping to achieve these goals. I wanted to cook for my cousin Dana in Los Angeles, who is dying of cancer.

He requested two dishes that did not go together: spaghetti and meatballs, in honor of his mother’s Italian-Catholic side; and Hamoth, a sweet and sour beet stew made by our Iraqi-Jewish grandmother, which is actually an Indian-Jewish dish.

(Confused yet? Now, if you had an Italian-Catholic mother from New York and an Iraqi-Jewish father from Shanghai, what would your identity be? Dana chose to play the bagpipes.)

I cooked the meal at the home of my friend Mary Ann and her husband Daniel, where my husband and I stay while in L.A. Dana lives nearby in a 2- bedroom apartment with his caregiver. His kitchen is tiny and not always clean. Mary Ann, however, just completed a total kitchen makeover, and her husband gives her Le Crueset as gifts. Need I say more?

Once I got cooking I rationalized that Dana should come to my friend’s house to eat, since his life for the last few years has been confined to doctor’s appointments; urgent hospital visits; and mostly, watching the Food Network at home. Dana has known Mary Ann for as long as I have. She was my college roommate, and before living with her, I lived with Dana and his parents, sleeping on the couch in their den.

The cooking took a few hours, as I made several servings to package for Dana’s freezer. My husband helped me brown the meatballs, Mary Ann came home from work early to make a salad, and we were ready to go when Dana and his caregiver arrived.

Dana was in his wheelchair, with a tank of oxygen in the back. Soon he wheeled up to the dining room table, anticipating his first course of red-sauced spaghetti with three fat meatballs (a superb and easy recipe from My Calbria) with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

As he raised his fork to his lips, bright red blood spurted from his nose. At first he kept going, eager to get in a few tastes of the dish he had requested. Soon blood poured onto his t-shirt and dotted his plate with red pools the size of dimes. His caregiver sprang into action, stuffing a tissue up his nose. Dana put his head back and rested in his wheelchair. Blood was smeared on his oxygen hose.

The rest of us sat at the dinner table, looking down at our plates of lovingly-prepared food. We tried not to look at Dana and pretended nothing unusual was going on. After a few minutes I cleared the table and tried again with plates of the second course (from Claudia Roden’s seminal Book of Jewish Food): stewed chicken and red beets perched on yellow rice, a sunset of bright red, orange, and yellow.

Dana kept apologizing. He tried to eat the second dish, but his nosebleed worsened. We cleared the table and moved into the family room to watch the Lakers. Dana sat silently for a half hour, exhausted and embarrassed. The tissue was still shoved up his nose. Then his caregiver wheeled him out of Mary Ann’s house.

Afterwards, I thought about how much easier it would have been for Dana if I had made dinner at his apartment and served it to him there. I considered whether I was showing off for my own enjoyment, and whether this dinner was truly for him. Lastly, I thought about how much more call there is for a story with pretty photos, where the meal was perfect and everyone loved it.

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  94 Responses to “The Perfectly-Prepared Dinner that Failed”

  1. Oh dear, I can’t even imagine how tough this must have been for both you and Dana. This story breaks my heart, but it is also a perfect example of how complicated human emotion can be. Nothing is ever simple.

    Sending much love to you both from this eastern arctic wasteland.

    • Thanks Stephanie. I had one of those days today where I couldn’t concentrate on anything else, so I figured I might as well write about it.

  2. That is just not what I was expecting. And, then the post ended so abruptly. I think this story isn’t over yet. So sorry for everyone. I was around two very close young relatives while they were dying. I made one of my cousin’s last meals for a Christmas Eve. Then we all ate together Christmas day at his house and again on New Year’s Day. Then it got rough. He died Jan 8, many years ago. It’s awkward. People get uncomfortable with someone dying. People sometimes even do things a little bit irrational, impractical, and sometimes just out of their minds. I remember making all the food for my brother’s funeral, but I was out of my mind during the whole thing. Don’t fret about how your plans didn’t work out. You were doing your best. I hope you will get to spend a little time with him, maybe try again at his home. Would love to read more about it.

    • Thanks Angela. That is my favorite part of writing, that it brings up memories or similar situations for other people. It’s not over yet, definitely, but there’s a limit to how much I can write about it on a blog that’s supposed to be about food writing!

  3. This story is touching. There was no need for photos . Your description provided us with a real scenario that has played out in different ways at many different dinner tables.

    Preparing food for another person, is an act of love. There was nothing selfish about this meal. Cheers to you!

    Velva

    P.S. I just came across your blog via Twitter. Glad I found it.

  4. Honest. Real. Very thought provoking. Why we do it and the real intention. Thank you for sharing this.

    • You are most welcome Tom. I’m glad it spoke to you. I’m always pleased to be thought of as honest and thought-provoking, so thanks for that.

  5. What you did was an act of love and maybe Dana would have been more comfortable at home but I would have thought as you did; thinking some new surroundings would add to the atmosphere of caring you wanted to create.

    This is life; it’s not always perfect or pretty as our blogs can often portray. We all have heartbreaking moments and I think it brings people closer together when we share those intimate, real moments. Thank you for sharing yours.

  6. My step-mother has breast cancer right now, it’s moved into her bones, but thankfully not her organs. I made a meal for her that she couldn’t eat because chemo laid her so low. She tried, but just couldn’t do it. I’m with you, Dianne. But he knows, just like my stepmom does, that it was done with love.

    • So sorry to hear about your step-mother. Dana’s cancer has moved out of his bones and into his body! Strange world, eh? We both do what we can about it, which includes our favorite activity: cooking and feeding people.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope that in telling it you found some sense of balance.

  9. Dianne, thank you.

  10. A close friend died of cancer recently. A number of us went to her house regularly to cook food and eat with her. Sometimes she could only eat a few bites, sometimes recipes didn’t work out, but she said that every meal was meaningful for her. Even having the aromas of food cooking in her home was precious to her. Most important was connecting with each of us, spending the time she had left with those she loved.

    I’m sure your cousin knows that your meal was cooked with love for him.

  11. Oh Dianne,
    This reminds me of personal cheffing for a certain family going through something similar…a gleo-blastoma. It’s hard to focus on making waffles when you’re faced with harsh realities like mortality. I am so happy I read this, because I always felt so guilty for trying to pretend everything was normal when it wasn’t; but I guess that’s how most of us cope, so in a way, our reaction is normal.
    You cooked and wrote this with such honesty and love. Thank you.

    • So you have faced this also — trying to pretend everything was normal. I guess it’s easier than the alternative, eh? Thank you, Ivy.

  12. Oh Dianne, I think this is a difficult thing to know what to do unless you’ve been there before or been there yourself – so don’t be beating yourself up over it. Many of the well-intentioned efforts on the part of friends and family when I underwent chemo and radiation didn’t always jive with what I needed. But it’s amazing how grateful I was for the small (and big) gestures of love because at that point, life really boils down to the raw essentials. And as much as you may have thought that meal meant to him, I’m guessing your company and sweet smile meant even more to him. Take heart, sweetie. xo

    • Jen, I had no idea you have dealt with it yourself. You are so strong and athletic — you must have conquered cancer beautifully. Thanks for the kind words.

  13. I think that, despite everything, this was probably one of the better meals Dana has had in a while. A change of scenery is so important for someone who’s housebound, and favourite dishes in the company of friends make for a memorable meal no matter how little is eaten.
    I remember when a family friend was going through chemotherapy, I had her over for a small luncheon with my mother and another friend. We ate a light meal outdoors, in a shady nook beneath the trees in my backyard.
    She had to sit on two cushions because she’d lost so much weight that sitting on a hard surface was unbearable, and she could only manage a few bites because the chemo had killed her appetite… And yet, she was so happy to have those few hours of companionship and laughter and fresh air, and that meant more to all of us than the food itself. Those moments are precious when we know someone’s time is finite.
    Hugs to you and Dana.

    • Thanks Isabel, for sharing the story. Your family friend must have loved feeling like a normal person having a meal with friends.

  14. Dianne – thanks for sharing such a personal story. I’ve been close to quite a bit of death over the last few years including a mother-in-law that we watched die of starvation as a symptom of Alzheimer’s. We’ll never know if her starvation was self-inflicted because she didn’t want to live that way or if it was a symptom of the dementia. As we sat at her bedside trying to feed her all of her favorite foods from ice cream to Japanese cuisine, all we knew was that WE wanted her to live or at least enjoy the time she had left.

    Your intentions were certainly nothing but good. There is no way to know how a change of scenery and a meal will affect someone in your cousin’s situation. He knows how much you care and what more can a person really want – than being surrounded by people who care, especially when they are very sick and their days are numbered.

    If you can’t cure him, all you can do is help him enjoy the time he has left. I believe you did that.

    • Thanks. I hope you’re right. I guess stories like this bring up people’s own experiences of caring for dying loved ones. Thanks for sharing yours.

  15. I’m sure your cousin appreciated your efforts to make him well-loved dishes and also your desire to change his scenery a bit. He wanted it all to go well, too. Frankly, cancer just mucks up everything. It’s nobody’s fault and it’s human nature to dwell on those difficult moments. That’s why we all freak out a bit when they happen, and then keep replaying them in our minds. Oh, to be one of those folks who can let things go and move on. I hope you’ll have at least one more good meal with your cousin, Diane, so that will be the one that sticks in your memories.

    Shirley

  16. Oh, Dianne, this is heartbreaking and I can relate to every word in it. I am so sorry. F-ing cancer always makes mincemeat of our carefully orchestrated plans. Poor Dana.

    • You made me laugh, Aviva. Maybe that wasn’t your intention but I appreciate it! Thanks for writing.

  17. Diane- I am sending you a big virtual hug. Please try not to beat yourself up any more; you certainly tried your best to create a picture perfect meal that Dana would love. I am sorry that Dana is so sick and that dinner didn’t go as planned…life really kind of stinks sometimes, doesn’t it.

    • Thanks Winnie. Yes life stinks, but it means a lot to have a virtual support community out there to share these things with and discuss. You’re a whole new audience to tell it to — I’m afraid my friends are getting sick of hearing it.

  18. Dianne –
    I believe that your cousin Dana is probably having the same sorts of feelings and thoughts that you are. 1. why did he even try to go to dinner 2. why did what happen have to happen to him then, and there at the table with you and your friends
    3. why didn’t his caregiver take him home sooner?4. why did he even try… and on and on and on. He should have said “no”, he shouldn’t have tried, he should have known better, and all those kinds of things. You can just imagine his thoughts as you talk about yours. He is probably having thoughts about how his going was because he wanted to be with you, how he wanted to acknowledge the love and care you were trying to give to him, how all he really wanted might have been to eat and enjoy your company and his condition ruined it for him and ruined it for you. You are both suffering the curse of trying to do something very very special for someone you love and LIFE messes it up for you. You both deserve a giant hug and giant DO-OVER the next time you are together. Just hug each other and smile at how love was going in both directions at that dinner and know that you both are lucky and blessed to have each other, no matter what the conditions. It is hard, but that is often how it is.
    Karen

    • Lovely Karen. I don’t know if he’s thinking about it — maybe he’s better at that stuff than I am. He’s in the hospital again, feeling very overwhelmed and wishing I was there. He has moved on to new anxieties!

  19. Thank you for sharing this story. I believe that your heart was completely in the right place. There was no way for you to know how things would turn out with your dinner.

    When my dad was ill, I did not know how to cook. All I could bring him was a cup of strawberry Yoplait yogurt. He used to make beef ribs in the fireplace that I loved. He passed in 1988 and I never got to make those ribs for him. Now I live in an apartment with no access to a barbeque. One day a co-worker told me how to make beef ribs in the oven. I made them for me and my boyfriend Rick and they came out perfect. I still wish I could have made ribs for my dad. But thinking about him, seeing his joy in making them for my family inspires me to cook well and make others happy too.
    Dianne I truly appreciate all the stories and advice that you offer. You are very sweet and you make me happy!

    • Oh, how easy it is to make someone happy, Denise! Thank you for that. I’m glad you finally made the ribs, and it gave you a reason to think about your dad again.

  20. But I bet he still appreciated the effort, and will in the days and weeks to come when he get the leftovers.

    When my FIL was dying and really no longer able to eat and not walk much he still enjoyed sitting for dinner. We sat in his office chair (so he could be wheeled around the house) and soaked in the company, even if he couldn’t keep a thing down other than a canned protein shake. Sometimes it is the gathering, the routine, rather than the food.

    • I hope so Cheryl. Thanks. Glad this brought up good memories of your FIL (took me a minute to figure out what that was). It’s a cute image to think of you wheeling him around in an office chair.

  21. There’s grace in this story, nonetheless. Letting it be what it is is clear and clean and such a relief. As my husband and I live with cancer I despair at peoples relentless attempts to try and make it go away. If we think positive, they say . . . Accepting what is has a real grace. I guess that’s love.

  22. I think you are being too hard on yourself – and at least you have the integrity to question your motives and whether it was the best thing to do. Hind-sight is 20/20 so they say. I also agree that all the perfect posts out there, while attracting visitors, can get a bit homogenous and bland (plus completely play on the insecurities of people like me!). I posed the question on one of my posts whether I should have pretended that everything had gone right and the overwhelming answer from comments was to share the lows as well as the highs. Long comment from me again – your posts are so thought provoking.

    • Thanks Sally. I don’t think people want to see many posts like this though. Once in a while is okay. We’re all busy, we all strive to be positive, and it’s back to getting dinner on the table.

  23. I found the post a bit disturbing.. Did you get your cousin’s permission to publish the story?

    It just sounded so cruel the way you spoke about his embarassment – like it was his fault things did not go as planned! And there was no love whatsoever in the post, just ‘oh look i did my best and it went wrong, oops’. Whats the point?

    • I agree. It was a little disturbing. Yes, he said it was okay. I believe his exact words were “What the hell.” He has not read it. He’s in the hospital right now.

      Re cruelty, I don’t agree. I reported what happened, that he thought it was his fault. I’m not interested in pretty posts. I don’t mind being disturbing and thought provoking.

      Re the point, that was it in the previous sentence.

  24. Kudos to you for sharing your feelings about this dinner, because preparing a meal is one of the most loving things you can do for a family member. In the context of your cousins illness, the whole event is going to be inevitably fraught with complexities that are impossible to anticipate. From my experience with loved ones and cancer, all you really need to do is be prepared for the messiness of any result, and not let it overshadow the love. A nosebleed certainly does not make the meal a failure. What counts is that you gathered at the table. I am sure he appreciates your having done it even if he could not eat it with you. Sometimes illness and medications can make it very hard for a person to say thank you, but you accept in your heart that they feel it.

  25. Wow, Dianne. I’ve always thought your writing was brave, honest, and blunt, but this takes the cake. You showed courage in composing this and putting it in your blog. Having some experience as well with ill relatives at the end of life, I could thoroughly relate to this type of scenario and to the reaction of the diners. I agree completely with your other readers, above, that your meal was by no means a failure. As my mom said to me once, regarding the suffering and struggle we were dealing with in the last weeks of her life, “It’s worth it because of our love for each other.” So, yes, that’s all that really matters.

    • Thanks Jane. I appreciate your saying so. I guess I was trying to say that I’m not so good at writing about the perfect meal, and I get tired of reading about it.

  26. When my father was dying – I didn’t know how to comfort because he couldn’t eat. I brought him to my home and brought light food stuff to his. I made a lot of wrong choices because in an Italian household, food equals love. The post rang bells – of memories, of “not getting it right,” and well-meant intentions. In the end, love and care were at the table under the most difficult of circumstances. The juggling of an Italian background with an Iraqi Jewish one did bring huge smiles.No wonder Dana played the bagpipes!

  27. Store cyclobenzaprine at room cheap strattera pills temperature away.

    Thanks for your honesty. Sometimes the kindest thing is to “bring the party to him” so he can save his strength for enjoying the company & food, rather than use it all up in the getting ready/traveling. A change of scenery may not be his priority, but he may value your company enough to make the effort to go out. Go to him, every chance you can; stop caring whether his kitchen is clean. Love is more important than the Le Creuset.

  28. Screw the ‘food blog’ ideal and remember, this is also about writing. What writing does for us that food also does is nurture the soul.

    I think you did the best you could and your intentions were genuine, but I also worry about everyone looking at their plates like nothing happened. He has cancer and that’s such a cruel and demanding disease. Shoving it under the carpet or in the closet won’t make it go away, as much as we may want it to. Even when you hear that someone is finally cancer-free, there’s an annoying little voice that tells you it can come back anytime, uninvited.

    You are family and your friend sounds like they’ve known your cousin long enough to be considered family, so making a meal of Dana’s to nourish and comfort is so intimate and kind. It would have only been a failure if you weren’t able to eat the food because it had been ruined in the cooking process. It also isn’t a Pass/Fail type of act. Some parts may not have gone well, but what you did, you did out of love for your cousin.

    Your last paragraph says a lot and only you can answer some of those questions. Your final sentence, I’m not sure if you think everyone just wants to read the generic style of blog that’s out there, but this entry is much more honest and is told in a voice that made me want to read it.

    My blog is called MorselsandMore for a reason…not everything is neatly packaged in pretty pictures…I link to articles about hunger charities, whale and horse meat being served in restaurants to shopping carts left in the middle of a parking lot as well as personal stories about food. I think you can digress from time to time and say what’s on your mind. If you have to speak of Dana again, let it out. Obviously from the comments here, people don’t have a problem.

    • Thanks. It was hard to know what to do. We all wanted to just have a family meal, as you say. Good for you for linking to stories that tell more than the standard stuff.

  29. Dianne,
    I am so sorry for you and for your cousin. I lost both parents to cancer and perhaps this story may help – I hope it does. The day my mother died, her oncologist came to the hospital. I was sitting outside her room taking a break (I had been there nonstop for about 5 days) when I saw him down the hall. I asked him why he was there and he said that he had come, not for my mother , but for me. He sat down next to me and told me that in the days, weeks and months ahead I would question every decision I had made with regard to my mother’s care. I would wonder if I shouldn’t have done things differently, if I could have “been better” at all of this. He said that when those questions came up to remind myself that I had done everything that I could have done and that I had done the most important thing of all – which was simply to be with my mother – for that, in and of itself, was the truest expression of my love for her.
    Even though the dinner did not go as planned Diane I know you did the right thing – you showed your cousin how much you care for him by making a wonderful dinner in a beautiful surrounding which is something you knew he would appreciate – and at the end of the day, that is truly all that matters.

  30. Oh Dianne, I’m so sorry to hear about your cousin. It sounds like your heart’s desire was to provide a special experience for Dana that he’s been unable to enjoy lately. Unmet expectations are often painful, but I have a feeling that the love and effort you put into the dinner means a lot to him. I’ll be praying for him and for you. Take care my friend.

  31. This perfectly prepared dinner didn’t fail! You all did a wonderful job in pooling your resources together and preparing a memorable meal, all in the name of blessing your cousin Dana. You accomplished that. In the wise words of my stepson, David, “It was what it was” and “What can you do?” Sometimes we have to accept that things don’t always turn the way we plan. Sure, it’s sad and disappointing, but it’s what’s in our heart that counts.

  32. The dinner didn’t ” fail”. I am always grateful for people who bravely enter the circle of suffering even for a short time. I hope you caught this NYT article on a chef bravely going where few have dared to go:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/nyregion/16sloan.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=chef%20for%20cancer%20patients&st=cse

    If you do go again to the tiny cramped apartment and cook another meal in your cousin’s limited kitchen, be sure and take photos of the meal. When one is ill the presence of nearest loved ones is the first and best ingredient in even a humble cup of salty chicken bouillon . .. Where’s Rodney Dangerfield when we need to laugh? (I suppose no blood sausage jokes.?.)
    I, like many of your reader’s have my own experiences to flashback on…My son with a rare cancer (sarcoma) craved a welcome home meal after his big surgery. I worked so hard to make it perfect. He began vomiting it up within minutes A nephew with testicular cancer screaming in a clinic lobby “”If anyone tells me one more Lance Armstrong story I’m gonna puke my guts out!!)
    As a 13 year old, I frantically researched the word “cancer “. I was I watching a baby brother wither away, turn yellow and die over months from a liver malignancy . I watched my mother trying t coax him to eat. I was told he had ” too many white cells”. A folk article said too much vinegar would kill your white and red cells. I asked the rural family doctor couldn’t we give my brother pickle juice to help? (A little learning is a dangerous thing..) Latter,as nurse’s aide in a large university hospital; I would take meal trays of unpalatable stuff into the patients enduring chemo. So many trays came out untouched. Keep on cooking, keep on coaxing…Best of luck, Mary

    • I did not see that article. Wow, those kids are lucky. So sorry to hear about your brother, Mary. What a sad story.

  33. Did you get a chance to send over the extra portions you made for Dana’s freezer? Maybe he’ll be able to enjoy the meal another day. I hope so.

  34. Such a touching story, Dianne. Thank you for sharing it and for bringing me back down to earth. My love of food came from a love for people, of being with them, sharing with them and doing for them. My focus has drifted. Tonight I’m going to promise my husband (1) to not take any notes while making dinner but to talk with him instead and, (2) when dinner’s ready, to not fuss over a perfect plate and rush it up to the photography box. Instead, I will sit with him so we can enjoy dinner together while it’s still hot.

  35. If you get another chance–and I know you may not, and this is not the point of the story–prepare the food at your friend’s house and then take it to your cousin. You were right not to mess with his messy kitchen, and it might have been stressful for him to have all the cooking at home, too.

    In any case, I feel for you. I’m sure he knows you well enough to know that you didn’t cook just for him. With luck, you will both eat and laugh together soon. And maybe listen to a little bagpipe music.

    • Thanks for giving me a good laugh, Tinky. I’m sure I’ll be back in LA again soon and I can try again.

  36. I checked my email right before a class started and read your post. I was so moved, but had to pull my thoughts back to grant writing until I could get home and respond. There was a period when we lost all the parents one right after the other and during that time I cooked for my mother, and my in-laws as their lives were ending. I was whipping up custards, pot pies, soups and stews and homemade bread and every comfort food I could think of from our family food history. The ones who benefitted most were really those of us who were struggling with losing the elders of our family to cancer and dementia and those childhood foods were consumed by the adult children and their children while we dealt with all the end of life details while our hearts were breaking. The cooking became my way of honoring and grieving and supporting the rest of the family and perhaps showing the moms that there was a matriarch in training who had learned her nurturing lessons well from them. My passion for food, cooking and nurturing and finding a way to do it on a gluten-free diet began during those dark days.

  37. Dianne,
    My heart breaks for you and your cousin. Isn’t making food for others in time of need such a traditional and universal way to give of ourselves? It was the one thing you could do for Dana that was truly from and of yourself. I’ sure he knows that. And you were smart enough to also make freezer packets for him for another time that he can enjoy. Don’t try to put your efforts in the wrong place – guilt. It was an act of love that was in no way diminished by the unfortunate outcome.

    • Thanks Carol. Yes, I made an entire grocery bag full of freezer food for his caregiver to take home. I think he appreciated it.

  38. You made an honest attempt at nurturing Dana despite the experience not living up to either of your expectations. The good news is that you prepared and packaged up servings that he can enjoy in his own time, and experience whatever sensory sensations will comfort him, whether that be smells or actual taste and texture. I think we often take for granted what food means to us beyond nourishment. This post really brings it home.

    • We food-obsessed types put a lot of meaning into preparing food for others. I hope he experiences comfort and love when he eats the rest of it in the privacy of his own apartment.

  39. I think that you are absolutely wonderful! You have taken the time out of your life (and your husbands life, I know that can be difficult) to pack up and spend time with a loved one during his final days. When people are dying, we try our best to make their final days as loving as possible. Preparing a meal for someone is the ultimate sign of affection. Making an extra batch to freeze was extremely thoughtful, actions speak louder than words. You had good intensions and that’s all that matters.

    • Thank you Nikki. You have brought up a good point about the husband. Dana needs a lot of my time right now. I think it’s going to get even crazier soon.

  40. While this may not be the usual fare for your blog, I think this post is one of my favorites. Isn’t preparing and sharing food about our humanity – the good and the bad? Not just the delicious morsels, wafting aromas and good company but also blackened cupcakes, nicked fingers, dinner served 2 hours late, recipes gone awry, our own hubris and fallibility? This kind of food writing may not be so profitable in the Gourmet magazine sense, but it’s REAL and clearly (from the number of comments) it speaks to us. The industry is selling the pretty part, but we’re still human; we crave and get comfort from the humanity of others. Thank you for being brave enough to show us your humanity.

    • Yes, the good and the bad is what makes life interesting. I read a great post in December about failed cooking experiments, with photos. Just loved it. It was brave of her to put out there too.

      I’m so glad you like this post. I try to stay on the subject of food writing, but sometimes I just can’t stand it and have to get in a personal story.

  41. What a strong story. Of course it’s easy to say in hindsight that you should have done things differently, but I think what’s important is that you were trying to make your cousin happy, and I’m sure he appreciated that.

  42. Oh Dianne, I am sitting here crying like a baby thinking of the last meals I ate with my dying brother and how horrible I felt not being able to help him, do more, not even being able to look at him as he struggled to chew and swallow the food he so wanted to eat. Someone once asked me what I thought about writing sad stuff on a food blog and all I know is that, for me, sometimes I just needed (and need) to write about it. It didn’t help my brother or make me feel less guilty about whatever I thought I should be guilty about, but somehow it does show others that life isn’t all a fairy tale, that so much pain and sadness hides behind so many cheerful, ain’t life grand blog posts. This is human and your story fills my heart with sadness and pain yet full of the love that we try and share with those around us. There are several blogs that I no longer read because every single blog post is all flowers and hearts and sunshine and to me this just isn’t real life. But the simple gest of being there and sharing something like a meal, like this beautiful dinner, like that chocolate cake I made my brother does indeed express such love and I know Dana felt your love for him. That is the best medicine. Hugs to you both.

    • Jamie, I am so sorry to hear this about your dying brother. I always take it as a compliment when my writing stirs up memories for readers, but for a lot of people here, the memories are painful. I hope you have written about your experience somewhere, if only in a journal.

      I too get bored by all the hearts and flowers blog posts, but we can’t have this kind of drama all the time either. It’s exhausting!

  43. Dana would have keenly anticipated a dinner in his honor with you and his old friends.
    You showed particular consideration in choosing dishes with special associations for him, you shopped, three of you contributed to the cooking, you spared him the fuss of the preparations and possible embarrassment if you had attempted this at his house. The very idea of dinner out would have been a pleasant change. You thought to make extra frozen portions for Dana to enjoy later. As a viewer of the Food Network, food is of particular interest to him and irrespective of family ties, he would have enjoyed your company having similar interests.

    Sadly due to Dana’s illness the reality did not live up to expectations on this occasion, you were not to know this when planning his special meal. You gave of yourself and Dana would know your gift came from the heart.

    I have thought about Dana all day – he now exists for me as a result of your blog.
    Your writing was honest and straightforward. I would much prefer to read the real and direct in preference to a glossy (reality smoothed over) fabrication.

    • How wonderful of you to say so, Elwyn. It’s such a compliment to have you read the piece closely and to imagine Dana as a real person.

      I think fabrication is okay too — we all love to have our fantasies, right? It’s just good to have some balance.

  44. I really loved the honesty of this. Thank you.

  45. I can’t possibly give you the comfort you need. I have been a hospice volunteer for awhile, honestly, I think just knowing that someone went to the effort that you did, is a large comfort to someone. Of course we all relate to food here, and if feed someone we share a part of ourselves.
    Not that this is advice to you at this point, I would often bring food to my patients, sometimes that meant I left them with the food because they couldn’t eat it at that time, but sometimes later they would eat, or better yet, they would share with others.

    • That’s so sweet of you, Stephanie. I’m sure they appreciated the effort you went to. And thanks for saying that Dana probably appreciated it. I know he did.

  46. I appreciate how forthcoming you were in sharing this. I feel like I’ve done the same, wondering about the intent or purpose of elaborate cooking endeavors when perhaps that wasn’t what was called for. Thank you for sharing, as much as it is a little heartbreaking to read.

  47. Dianne, I didn’t know we shared a love of cooking and feeding people as well as being close to Dana, my little buddy from high school. Thank you for sharing this story here. This is so touching and I’m running out of Kleenex here. I know in my heart that he was very grateful and touched by your thoughtfulness. Obviously, there was a lot of love included in those recipes as they were made just for him. I think it might have been John Lennon that said, “Life is what happens when you’re in the middle of making plans.” Jamie’s previous post is so true and we need a dose of reality sometimes to put life in perspective. I understand why you would put the word “failed’ in your title but a gesture of pure love is never a failure. (((HUG))).

    On a happier note, I’m looking forward to reading more of your writing and would like to try the chicken dish. I think there will be a special time for that, though.

    • Hi Lizzy, nice to hear from you. Thanks for the hug.

      I don’t know if you cook, but the beet recipe involves braised chicken, sauteed minced ginger then a soupy mix of canned sliced beets, brown sugar, lemon juice, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Serve over rice.

  48. Dianne, these thoughts are speaking to me so well right now.
    I’m sure you have read Chang-Rae Lee’s essay, Coming Home Again. ? I was reminded of it as I read yours.
    It is so strange how our use of food as love can sometimes overshadow the real purpose. Sometimes I spend hours cooking a meal for family that I should instead be spending time with. The balance is difficult.

    • I have read Chang-Rae Lee, but I don’t recall that essay.

      Re cooking, it’s possible that he might have just liked my company. But I think he liked the food too. Like you say, it’s a balance.

  49. I don’t think the dinner failed, as you say in your headline. I’ve cooked for many people with AIDS and cancer and oftentimes, the best intentioned plans go awry at the table. Disease can be a most ungracious guest, inflicting itself when it’s least welcome.

    It’s lovely that you made the dinner and smart of you to freeze some for later. I’m sure Dana relished thinking ahead to the dinner of his favorite dishes, and I hope he gets to enjoy the extra portions at a later date.

    • Thanks Krista. I am with him again now. He asked me to make him dinner, but he ended up sleeping all day.

      I guess I meant that it failed in that it was not perfect, the way so much food writing is.

  50. Dianne – your dinner sounds heart-breaking, but thank you for sharing it. In an odd way, it was far more beautiful than any ‘perfect’ dinner could have been. And, as an aside, Dana’s ‘confused identity’ sounds very familiar. I’m sure he was a fascinating person and I’m sorry that you lost him.

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