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Kitchen Memories help children deal with grief

"Food is so sensory on so many levels. You know if you get a whiff of a certain smell, it can bring you right back to a memory of mom cooking in the kitchen. If you get a taste of something and you think, wow, that reminds me of dad's Bolognese sauce." - Deirdre Thomas, Executive Director of The Lighthouse


December 14, 2020
By Bakers Journal


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Donna Dooher, chef, Mildred's Temple Kitchen. Image courtesy of The Lighthouse

Grief and food are often paired. We celebrate and grieve with food, we attempt to comfort people with treats. It was a plate of scones that brought chef Donna Dooher, the founder of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, together with Deirdre Thomas, founder of The Lighthouse. They discussed the importance of recognizing grief when dealing with the loss of a parent or sibling, and how the loss of a food memory or prized recipe can mean the loss of an heirloom memory.

While the pandemic caused grief to those working in the hospitality business, there is added misery this holiday season for those who had lost a relative. Chef Dooher understands grief and how a formal ceremony or a simple family gathering (with lots of food, of course!) can help heal. The Lighthouse Project invited chefs and food influencers to support its efforts in helping youth cope with their grief.

The Lighthouse’s executive director, Deirdre Thomas spoke of what The Lighthouse does: “We provide grief support to families across the GTA, mostly in the Hamilton, Halton and Peel regions. But now, because of COVID, all of our grief support groups have had to go virtual. We are seeing families coming from further afield because they don’t have to physically get to our centre anymore. And all of our services are provided free of charge, so we see about 360 children and their parents, each year.”

Kitchen Memories offers a way to have local Toronto food experts reveal a personal recipe and their story about what their favourite meal means to them. By sharing their own connection to food memories and grief, the project hopes to shed light on children’s grief and raise funds to support children coping with the loss of a family member.

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This is a time where children and adults alike need to warmth of a kitchen and a human to reach out to. “The children that come to Lighthouse, that’s who inspire us,” says Thomas. “Food is so sensory on so many levels. You know if you get a whiff of a certain smell, it can bring you right back to a memory of mom cooking in the kitchen. If you get a taste of something and you think, wow, that reminds me of dad’s Bolognese sauce.”

Dooher’s story is a touching one. Her contribution to the Kitchen Memories project involves pie. “I bake a lot of apple pies and everybody loves apple pies, everybody has their own version of the best apple pie. But I do have very strong childhood memories of being with my grandmother, and she was an excellent pie maker. Every year at Christmas time she’d make about fifty pies…various kinds of fruit pies, and she used to take a little piece of paper and with her fountain pen, she’d just write, ‘apple’, and she’d tuck it into one of the little vents and then she’d freeze them.

“And, well, this would be, I guess 42 years ago. I remember, I went over, she had baked all of her pies. And it was odd, I noticed, that she put names on the pies. (She had seven children of her own.) My father loved raisin pies, so she put, ‘Frank – Raisin.’ And she died in her sleep that night. Her freezer was full of pies andit was about a week before Christmas. So, I’m there we there work was a freezer full of pies, but they’ve been allocated for people, so there is no squabbling over pie. She died very peacefully in her sleep, you know, she didn’t suffer at all. But when I look back on it, I feel like she knew she had a premonition that her time on this earth was coming to an end. So I try to carry on the pie tradition as best I can.”

Dooher knows how food and community tie in together, and can help body and soul heal in hard times. “First of all, part of the grieving process and healing process for for young people is to understand that we all go through this at some point in our lives. We work our way through it, and we do that as a community. And when there’s community, there’s usually food involved. And, food does make us happy and it brings a certain satisfaction home.

“I just feel like [Kitchen Memories] is a very natural fit for those things to come together. My mother is Italian, my father is Irish, and I know as a young child when the Irish grieve or have wakes, food is a big part of it. You bring lots of food to the home and you talk, and you drink. You support each other. And again, I think in our modern day we’ve lost some of that importance on grieving as a community, and again, food.”

Thomas adds that the need for funding is direr than ever under the current circumstances. “Over the second wave of COVID, we’re seeing younger people contract the disease so I think from talking to our colleagues in the hospice and palliative care sector, they’re getting overwhelmed at the moment. And I think in the months ahead we may see that impact, not just from COVID related deaths but also from all the procedures that have been delayed because a lot of surgeries have been postponed a lot of diagnosis has been postponed. So I think we will see the impact of COVID probably more into next year.”

For anyone who would like to donate to the Lighthouse, click | HERE |


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