Baking is visceral. You feel it in your bones. It stirs something in your soul and every bite can be filled with memories.
A while back I posted a picture of this apple cake on Instagram - the recipe for which was entrusted to me by a dear friend on the death of his mother - of whom I was desperately fond. This is her fail safe crowd pleaser and traditional Rosh Hashanah treat. In that post I mused on how, when I bake this cake, I always remember 'mum' (it never seemed right to call her anything else) when I bake it. I remember her love and her warmth. Baking it feels like part of her legacy living on. Every time I make it family celebrations are called to mind - happy gatherings around kitchen tables. Joyful hugs and beaming smiles. It’s all there in that cake, each and every one, each and every time.
When ‘mum’ died, I was at her funeral. I was by the side of my best friends to support them, to let them know they were not alone, to run errands, make food and field relatives. To paraphrase. CS Lewis - The pain the family felt that day was part of the happiness that had come before and I hope that sharing that pain was able to ease the burden a little.
Today we said our final goodbye’s to ‘mum’s’ husband. A lovelier, more generous man you could never meet and I was very fond of him. Today however, I was not standing in the crematorium or packing my car full of cold platters and cake. Today I was almost a hundred miles away, toddler hanging from my legs and logged in to watch the funeral via Zoom from my living room. It was a surreal and saddening experience. Not only did I feel the pain of losing 'dad', but I also felt intense pain at not being able to stand with my friends as they have stood with me so many times when I have needed them most. They are family and being distanced from them today suddenly made real and tangible a grief I didn’t know I had been nursing. The grief of losing the intimacies and nuanced relationships of life before COVID. Until today I’m not sure that I realised what I had lost. I was too much in the middle of things. Cracking on. Surviving. Somehow today, with the funeral via zoom which felt so irreverent to the point of making me angry combined with the sudden increase in the pace of life this week it all knocked me for six. I was desolate, exhausted and furious all at the same time. I know that I am lucky, incredibly lucky. There are lots of people far worse off than me. Of that I am well aware. But whatever our situation, we have all experienced loss of one kind or another in the past six months and I'm beginning to realise that it's going to take more time to process that than we think. Somehow we need too give ourselves time and space to heal. Give ourselves permission to step back. Cry. Scream. Laugh even - there have been plenty of farcical moments I'd wager. Then when that's all over we need to find a way to rekindle the things we have lost in the storm. I don't have a clue how we do this, but I know that we must and I simply pray that there will be a chance to try soon. The fog of this pandemic is becoming oppressive and I am longing for it to lift. My only hope is that Lewis was right and that just as 'the pain' we feel 'now' at the loss of a loved one 'is part of the happiness then' the pain we feel now can also give rise to joy that is to come. A time when physical affection, literal closeness and more familiar life is all to be relished. Please god that time is soon. Meanwhile I will try and give myself time to rest for the first time since March. Time to process and to a chance to heal. Time to explore ideas and make happy memories. This weekend I will bake Mum's apple cake and gather my family close. Her love will be in every bite and give me confidence to keep on keeping on. I know she and 'dad' would believe I could do it, so I will. I will bake their cake and toast their memory. I will give thanks for my great fortune and let myself feel the pain of all there is to grieve for. I will try to give myself time.