A good friend of mine texted me last week to me know that her father passed away. He had been sick for a long time and over the course of his illness, she and I had many conversations about this process of losing a parent to cancer. When I told another friend the news, she said to me, “Oh, she’s lucky to have you. You must have known just what to say.” But the truth is, I didn’t. I don’t.
Having lost my father just over a year ago, I definitely know what NOT to say. I’ll give you the top three: 1. “Don’t worry. It gets better with time.” Here’s the thing: no it doesn’t. I’ll never have a daddy again. There is nothing better about that. Ever. It felt so dismissive when people told me this, as if in just 6 months I would just be over it all. 2. “I know exactly how you feel.” I understand the sentiment behind this one, but truthfully, no one knows exactly how you feel. Everyone’s relationship with their father is very different. Some people are close with their father, some aren’t. Some carry around anger and resentment. Some have tremendous guilt or regrets. I know how I feel, but that doesn’t mean that any one else feels the same way. 3. “Just be happy that you have your daughters.” This one bugs me because it ignores the gray areas in life. The happiness that I have in my daughters is unrelated to the sadness that I still feel about losing my dad. Absolute joy and gut-wrenching grief CAN actually exist together, thank goodness.
But what TO say, then? I don’t know what to say to my sweet friend because I know that there was nothing that anyone could have said to comfort me. Every sentence I thought of saying to her seemed so empty and superficial compared to the hurt that I could hear in her voice. So I hugged her, and told her how sorry I was. And I meant it.
Then I did for her what so many did for me and my family when we were in the midst of hospice and funeral planning: I brought food. During those horrible days, I cannot even remember who brought what, but our friends descended on my parents’ house, bringing homemade cookies, BBQ’ed chicken and hamburgers, chicken salad from Costco, croissants… it was a cornucopia of goodness that made our lives so much easier. There was so much to be done, especially when we brought my dad home, that we absolutely did not have time to cook, and there were only so many meals that we could stomach from the local fast food joint. I remember just crying after one of my mom’s friends from church literally brought us boxes of food. Their gifts of food nourished our bodies and our souls. It was just one less thing that we had to worry about.
The recipe I made for her is a simple, but delicious pasta dish that travels well and can just be microwaved or heated on the stove. I threw in a green salad, some Italian bread from a local bakery, and a bottle of wine, packed it all up in a Trader Joe’s bag, and sat with her in her father’s house. I’m including the recipe here. It’s a staple in our home, especially in the fall and winter. Try it for your family, and try it for a friend in need. Win-win.
Pasta e Fagioli
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, quartered, then halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
3 ½ cups chicken stock – 2 14 oz cans or homemade (click here for our recipe)
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 ½ tsp dried basil
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 15 oz can cannelloni beans (or white beans)
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish)
½ lb ditalini pasta (or elbow macaroni, cellentani, or other curved pasta)
1. In a large pot over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until translucent. Stir in garlic and cook until tender. Reduce heat, and stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, water, broth, parsley, basil, oregano, salt, beans, and Parmesan. Simmer 40 minutes.
2. Add pasta and continue to simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Serve with extra Parmesan for garnish.