in Grief

On Canned Spaghetti and Memorial Traditions

It has been a long year, and one that has not been marked by too many occasions for joy. Today, July 15, marks one year without my dear wife, Terri.

Almost the only time I find myself with a smile these days is when I am around my baby granddaughter. She has what I call an infectious, dimpled smile; her smile is infectious because it spreads to anyone who sees her smile. There is only one other occasion that consistently brings a smile to my face. That occasion is buying canned pasta at the grocery store.

I realize that some of my readers are probably thinking by now that I have finally lost what little of my sanity I still possessed. (The matter of my sanity is a good question, but it will have to wait for another occasion.) In fact, I smile whenever I buy a can of pasta because it is a small, but positive, tradition that I have developed over the past year.

While Terri was sick and undergoing staggering numbers of chemotherapy treatments it was always a challenge for her to eat enough. Cancer attacks the body in ways that impact the body’s ability to absorb nutrients even when they are consumed in sufficient quantities; meanwhile, chemotherapy all but ensures that it is impossible for a person to eat enough food. Losing weight while on chemotherapy is dangerous, thus it is necessary to do everything possible to maintain body weight. Long story short, Terri’s doctors repeatedly told me to feed her anything she could eat and keep down.

I used to be a good cook. I could cook anything from scratch, and would frequently toss together impressive meals from bits and pieces of things lying around the kitchen. It was fun because Terri always enjoyed my cooking. (I do not cook now since it is no longer fun.) Terri used to insist though that I buy her canned spaghetti, Spaghettios, or raviolis on a somewhat regular basis. I would always offer to cook the same from scratch as it would be better, but she remembered eating these as a child and they held a positive association for her. So, in deference and in the interests of getting any calories into her, I would regularly buy and serve her canned pasta.

Sometime over this past year – I do not recall exactly when – I started buying one can of spaghetti, Spaghettios, or raviolis with each trip to the grocery store. It is now a tradition that I never break. Each time I pick up a can of pasta from the grocery store shelf I think of Terri and cannot help but smile.

Today my sweet daughter brought home Spaghettios for dinner in memory of Terri. She surprised me because I had forgotten that I even told her about my little tradition. It made a very difficult day just a little bit brighter.

On its surface this seems like a silly and irrelevant practice; beneath the surface this is a rich and meaningful tradition. An otherwise uninspiring walk through the grocery store brings a moment of joy as I recall dozens of conversations where would I offer to cook real pasta instead, but would end up buying canned pasta because she thought it sounded good. Picking up a can from the shelf instantly takes me back in time to when the situation was frightening, but we were at least together. For a few seconds, as I lift the can from the shelf, I smile and remember better times; again, at home, there is another smile as I open the can and raise it in a toast: This is for you, Terri.