The Accidental Ritual

via iStock Photo/gerenme

Yesterday I made tomato soup from scratch. The fact that I made soup is unremarkable because I make soup all the time, and being that it is September and tomatoes are in full swing, me making tomato soup should be no big deal. But without even realizing it, yesterday it became ritual.

See, my grandmother died this week. It was sort-of expected, or at least anticipated, but it didn’t make it less sad. And even though I’m no stranger to grief I was caught off guard by how quickly and seamlessly it blanketed my existence. Which is what led to the soup.

I was feeling a little hazy and lost in my day. I couldn’t keep a focus on anything–not writing, not class prep and definitely not grading. I had taken walks, done yoga, tried cleaning but I was just restless, and for those who have spent any time with me, you know that nothing is more annoying to me than feeling restless.  Well, almost nothing. At any rate, cooking, I thought, would be perfect. It could help me focus my thoughts, give me a creative outlet and produce something tangible–exactly what I needed after a day of just wandering around.

So I stared at what my kitchen and my garden had to offer for some inspiration: pounds of tomatoes, some garlic, basil, onions, carrots…normally my go-to’s for a good all-day-simmer sauce but that just didn’t feel quite right. We just had pasta for dinner, didn’t really have the time that I would want with a sauce, blah blah blah. That’s when I decided on the soup.

I got the tomatoes blanching, then spent the next 30 minutes or so chopping carrots and onions, giving them a good simmer, adding garlic, and finally throwing in the blanched tomatoes with some stock to bring it together. A little salt and bring it up to a boil and we should be good I thought.

It was then, as I stirred what was coming together as a pretty good batch of soup if I do say so, that the focus came. Or maybe I should say the peace.

One of my most precise memories of my grandma is when she would make tomato soup. Now hers always came from the can, cut with a healthy dose of whole milk or cream, and served with saltines or oyster crackers–the very picture of post-war homemaking. But when I remember my grandma I remember her most vividly through the food she made me.

I have no way of proving this, but I often think she felt most fulfilled, most needed, was when she was taking care of her grandchildren. As a child she seemed so in that moment- not distracted or lost in thought on some other adult matter-just there, taking care of us and it was impossible not to feel completely enveloped in her love right then.  It was an attention and focus that not all the adults in my life shared.

And there I was, a grown woman with children of my own, in my kitchen the day after her death, trying to find some comfort from the sadness of her loss. Without even realizing it I had performed my own ritual of grief and paid tribute to my grandma in maybe the only way I could have.

Kelly worked late that night so it was just me and Owen for dinner. He sat down in the kitchen and I gave him a bowl. He grimaced but took a bite. And then another and another. Before too long he had finished a bowl and was off to complete whatever Lego Star Wars-inspired base or ship he was working on. I just watched, a little less sad then I started, which I’m sure was exactly grandma’s point.

Originally posted at

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