Hi all, it’s been a hard time for my family the past three weeks. My grandma’s health unexpectedly took a very dire turn for the worse and she passed away last Wednesday. Her passing brought up an unexpected change of heart in my vegan journey that I’d like to share with all of you today….
First, I want to tell you about my grandma. My grandma, Virginia Husk, was one of a kind. She had absolutely no filter on her opinions and was always ready to tell you exactly what they were. She was kind and giving of herself, but also stubborn and determined. In this way she managed to endear herself even to her enemies.
For example, she had lived in an assisted living facility for the past 10 years and there was one woman (who won’t be named) who my grandma just hated. One day a few years ago, they actually got in a fist fight in the elevator (my grandma was about 83 at the time). Yet, when my grandma’s arch nemesis heard of her passing, she cried and said “Well, I didn’t like her, but I’m going to miss her.” That was my grandma. You may not have liked her personality at times, but you miss her character and presence when she’s gone.
My grandma really came into my life at a critical time. I was a child of an incarcerated parent. My dad went to prison when I was six and stayed there for the better part of my childhood. Despite all the early turmoil surrounding his legal problems and ultimate prison sentence, I look back on my childhood and I remember only happiness and love. I owe that in large part to my grandma.
After my dad was sentenced and imprisoned, my mom and I moved to a tiny town on the California/Arizona southern border called Needles, so we could be closer to my grandma and she could help out my newly single mother. I’ll never forget saying goodbye to my dad (for how long I wasn’t sure and for reasons I couldn’t quite understand) and boarding an Amtrack train bound for Needles in the middle of the night with my mom. It was still dark when we stepped off the train in the middle of the Mohave desert and even though it was probably about four in the morning, the temperature was still in the 100s. My mom and I went straight to my grandma’s house and as soon as we opened the door, the blast of her air conditioner poured over me and I felt safe.
Every day, my grandma would take care of me while my mom worked. She picked me up from school, she helped me with my homework, she made me dinners, she came to my softball games, and she loved me. She watched me full-time during the summer vacation months. Instead of my childhood being consumed by the absence of my father, it was filled with the love of my grandmother. I too, filled a void in her life. She had lost both her husband and her son to cancer and I know that raising me brought a new purpose to her life at a time when she needed my love probably as much as I needed hers.
So many memories of my grandma are filled with food. I used to call her “Grandma Cookie” and it was for good reason. She taught me how to fill every square of my waffle with butter. She showed me how to make cinnamon sugar toast. She showed me how to heat up my Kids Cuisine microwave dinners and we’d watch I Love Lucy together. Once a week my mom and I would go to her house and order pizza while we did out laundry at her house.
Every single day after school we would go to Denny’s. We went so often we knew all the waitresses and they wouldn’t even bother taking our order. We would just say “Give us the usual” and they would bring out a grilled cheese sandwich with seasoned fries for me and a patty melt with no cucumbers for grandma and we would top off the meal a slice of apple pie a la mode. She would take me to Thrifty’s for coconut pineapple ice cream and sometimes she even let me get a double scoop.
So what does all of this have to do with veganism and what’s a food memorial? Well, a food memorial is just something I made up. I always envisioned going to Denny’s and ordering our old favorite when she died, as a way of honoring her and remembering our most cherished time together. I’m going to be completely honest. When I heard that she was dying two weeks ago, I instantly made up my mind to carry out my Denny’s food memorial to her after she passed. I would go to Denny’s, order and eat a grilled cheese and patty melt in her honor. But it turns out I didn’t and I don’t plan to do that anymore.
Why the change of heart? Well, witnessing the process of her dying and in the wake of her death, I have been reminded of the true value of life. We were told by the hospital staff that my grandma had no more brain function and that it was really just her body that remained. We had nothing to do but wait for her earthly shell to tire and stop breathing. Even as my grandma lay in the ICU, comatose, and with almost no hope that she would ever wake up again, she was treated by the nurses and doctors with such reverence for the life that still remained.
Her body was so exalted, even though there was so little life left in it. The nurses cleaned her, administered morphine even though she could feel no pain, and monitored her every breath. My mom and I comforted her, sang to her, held her hands, covered her, uncovered her, and turned the TV on for her. We slept in hospital chairs next to her. All this, even though she was completely comatose. All the love and compassion that was poured into her as she died reminded me that life is a priceless gift.
So that brings me back to the food memorial. I’m sure you’ve put it together by now, I can’t honor my grandma by directly participating in the death of another being. I can’t in clear conscience, after everything I witnessed, go and order a grilled cheese sandwich that resulted in the death of a mother cow and the orphaning of a baby calf. I can’t participate in a death that goes unnoticed, unheard, unvalued. I understand I’m making some very hard-line statements and I am aware that not everyone will understand or agree with what I am saying. That doesn’t matter to me now.
There are other ways I can honor my grandma and many ways that I already have. I am so grateful that I could be there with her as she moved on to her next life and that I could be there for my family who are still here with me. I will treasure what I have here on this earth because I might not be here as long as I think, and our life here passes in just a blink of time. I want to spend that time nurturing all living beings, not snuffing out the ember of their life at the whim of my desires. I chose to treat all life with the same reverence that was shown to my grandma… in that way I can truly honor her.