News & views | The healing power of pie

News & views

The healing power of pie

As some of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will know I lost my husband suddenly three weeks ago. It’s obviously hard to write about it while it's still so raw but I wanted to tell you about something quite unexpected that has helped - and is helping - to heal the pain.

A couple of nights after he died a chef friend, Chris Wicks, turned up with an absolutely magnificent fish pie. “I just thought you’d have family round you’d need to feed and you wouldn’t feel like cooking.” Or eating, he could have said. So true. The very thought made me feel nauseous but we needed to eat, all of us - and the amazing thing was - the pie was so delicious - luxuriant, creamy, stuffed with seafood - that we actually tucked in and enjoyed it.

Another chef friend, Stephen Markwick, heard about this and brought his own equally amazing pie - this time chicken and tarragon - a few days later which I shared with my husband’s and my oldest friends one memorable evening when we talked endlessly about Trevor and joyously remembered him. It reminded me that it was still possible to laugh.

Since then there have been other food offerings. Supplies of Spanish jamon and a homemade tortilla from my beautiful Menorcan daugher-in-law, Maria (plus a mac and cheese which I’ve just happily remembered I stashed away in the freezer). A great hunk of creamy Gorwydd Caerphilly from cheesemaker friends Trethowan's Dairy. Some fresh farm eggs, laid that day, from a neighbour, a box of indulgently chocolatey muffins from an American friend (which our youngest son managed to squirrel away) and a box of Hotel Chocolat chocolate fingers which popped through the letterbox from a new friend, Nicky. They got rapidly scoffed by our youngest too. Choc therapy.

Others have offered to come over and cook. Lovely idea - more intimate, less stressful than a restaurant although I have had a couple of great meals at our local, Wallfish, in the past 10 days. (They also offered to let me use the restaurant as an office in between services if I was finding it difficult or depressing to work from home. I wasn't doing much work at all to be honest but it was an incredibly kind thought.) Local feels good right now.

Finally this week we held a magnificent Irish-style wake for Trevor at his much-loved Bell’s Diner where we sat round big tables and shared incredible food and wine. Nothing fussy - clams and beans, rabbit stew - his favourite kind of food. It’s all been about comfort this past couple of weeks.

How useful is this to you? Maybe you’re not as obsessed with food as I am or lucky enough - I know I am - to have friends who are chefs but everyone can provide food of some sort: a pan (or even a couple of cartons) of soup, a homemade pasta sauce, a quiche or some cold ham and tubs of salads, even a pack of porridge - I treated myself to Rude Health’s Fruity Date porridge the other day. Someone told me a friend had provided her with a side of smoked salmon. Healthy food to pick at is especially welcome. You don't want to be living off toast.

I hadn’t really thought what people need when they're bereaved. Flowers seem obvious and they’re beautiful but they die and you don’t need a reminder of death*. But food is comforting, sustaining and nourishing: something that literally keeps body and soul together. Don’t ask whether the person wants it - they’ll more than likely say "no, I’m not hungry, please don’t go to the trouble" but they'll welcome it, believe me. Make it perishable so they can't just put away it in a cupboard.

Be a feeder.

*Another good friend send a couple of light-hearted books to read “for those moments you wake up in the middle of the night” So right. I can recommend The Red Notebook to fellow insomniacs. And from another, a bath oil called Inner Strength. We all need it.

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Comments: 23 (Add)

Hoei Huang on January 25 2020 at 15:30

<a href="">Great Post</a>

tom on January 25 2020 at 07:21

plum wine with cheese

maki on September 5 2018 at 06:25

[url][/url] on February 1 2016 at 08:28

Sorry for your loss, I just saw your post.

Ellen Crabtree on November 14 2015 at 09:57

Dear Fiona,

I just read of your loss in today's Guardian and would like to offer my sincere condolences to you and your family in your time of grief. May your friends and family and good memories sustain you. Thanks for your always helpful and informative columns. Ellen

Clare on November 12 2015 at 17:46

So sorry to hear your sad news Fiona. Thanks for this beautiful piece about how to help those we love during a tough time.

William Dunphy on November 12 2015 at 13:00

Fiona, sorry to hear of your loss. Comforting to hear that you have many great food and wine memories to cherish and strong support from family and friends.

Bill Dunphy
Trocadéro Wine School

Lindy. Wildsmih on October 29 2015 at 22:49

Hello Fiona, I, too, have only just heard of your awful loss. I am so sorry.
How lovely that so many friends have shown their love with gifts of food; lending true meaning to what we glibly call, comfort food.
I was brought up between, what used to be known as two great salmon fishing rivers, the Wye and the Severn and early summer celebrations in those days were always crowned with a feast of local salmon. My father died in June (many years ago now). His death was sudden, he was in his mid sixties. The whole family gathered at home, the morning after and set about the formalities. My mother's thoughts turned to lunch and sent us out to pick the first crop of Dad's broad beans, of which he was so proud and to dig the new potatoes from the garden and Mum cooked the salmon. This was my father's favourite meal. We all sat around the table eating, with lumps in our throats, tears in our eyes, talking, remembering and smiling. Can there be better therapy?
My thoughts are with you and your family and friends.

Jill Norman on October 26 2015 at 16:09

I only just learned of your husband's death. I am so sorry, it is such a difficult time for you and your family.
I'm glad you are being fed by friends who love you, and your Be a feeder message is a good one to pass on to others

Rachel on October 26 2015 at 12:24

Thank you. I had a sudden bereavement 3 months ago and then another, one and a half weeks ago. I wish I'd known this earlier but looking back it makes sense. I've unwittingly been so intent on feeding my family cake everytime they visit all this time even more so than usual. You've given me strength for now and the future. Thinking of you and your family during this time.

Helen McGinn on October 25 2015 at 22:43

Be a feeder - I love that. Thinking of you all.

Fiona Beckett on October 25 2015 at 22:11

Thank you all so very much for sharing your own memories and experiences. My heart goes out to those of you who have suffered a comparable loss - it must still be very hard xx

Peter G on October 25 2015 at 20:29

Thinking of you - and glad you are eating well xo

Mardi (eat. live. travel. write. on October 25 2015 at 20:15

Fiona I am so sorry for your loss. Sounds like you are surrounded by good people. Take care of you, ok?

Marion K on October 25 2015 at 19:15

My brother was killed in a road accident and the thing that gave us comfort was a bag of fresh scones. It can be the small things that count.

Jill on October 25 2015 at 19:03

When my husband died suddenly at the age of 35 (12 years ago) my parents moved in with me and my 2 small children. They didn't know what to do so they fed us. Those family meals are what kept us all going through the very dark early days.

Imogen on October 25 2015 at 18:21

I am so glad you have been shown so much kindness through food. I lost my baby son last year and baking has been part of my healing. I've been writing about my story in

Jenny Mortimer on October 25 2015 at 16:28

There are no words enough to share there are many people who care - your memories will be very important and remain with you xxx

Karen on October 25 2015 at 16:17

Food is the language of love, in times of happiness and sadness. I don't think it can be underestimated the role comforting food has to play in our lives. So happy that you have loving friends and family who rally around to help you during these difficult days. All best wishes to you, Fiona. x

Matt Inwood on October 25 2015 at 16:17

I don't know how you've found the strength to share this and your various posts of the last fortnight, but it's a generous and wonderful thing to share and to read. Thinking of you lots. x

Gill on October 25 2015 at 15:49

When dad was dying earlier this year my sister's eldest friend left a huge bowl of cooked mince on the doorstep. She texted to say she'd left it after she'd driven away. That kind gift kept us going for days at a time when none of the family felt like getting near a cooker.

I'm so sorry to hear about your loss Fiona.

Fiona Beckett on October 25 2015 at 10:01

Thanks so much for sharing that, Liz. Great comfort. Spaghetti carbonara is a particular favourite. Barny of course is one of the very kind people who have offered to cook xx

Liz Haughton on October 25 2015 at 08:52

When my previous partner was dying many friends brought round food for family and friends, and even him when he could, to share. Spaghetti carbonara and a massive chicken stew stand out, and to this day my friend who brought it is known as chicken stew Lou by his family. After he died I never had to think about cooking until I wanted to. And one of my sisters cleaned my house. It's amazing how these domestic comforts can help so very much. I'm really glad you have people around you who instinctively know this. Love to you and yours.

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