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When bad things happen, you can find comfort in family and a good meal

Dec. 20, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

We are all vulnerable. The senseless tragedy last week has caused a lot of tears and the collective moan is deafening. It's everywhere I turn. I am ashamed to say I have avoided the pictures of the victims and I have quickly turned the channels when people gather to mourn. It's just too much.

But as much as I try, my mind will wander to that scene of despair, squinting at the flood of emotions I imagine each parent must have felt when they waited at the fire station to hear news of their child that didn't come running into their arms.

Unspeakable traumas in life are hard to watch and even harder to experience. Love and loss are a part of life, but I imagine the way in which it occurs determines the velocity of the sting. What I have experienced in life pales in comparison to this, but it was enough to compel me to run toward joy.

I read an excerpt from Brene Brown's "Daring Greatly." She researched families who have lost children and wrote what she learned from them: "Don't squander joy. We can't prepare for tragedy and loss. When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience. Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it's scary. Yes, it's vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen -- and they do happen -- we are stronger." (from "Daring Greatly," Gotham Books, 2012)

I remember watching a woman crying in complete brokenness saying she lost her child 10 years ago and she had never been able to get over it. A simple question set her free. He asked, "Why do you celebrate her death? Why not celebrate her life?" Then he said, "How long you grieve or how deeply you hurt does not reflect how much you loved her."

In that moment she found a permission granted by no one but herself to find joy and dig out of her coffin of pain. She cried and you could literally see her sunken demeanor find strength to live again. She confessed to everyone in her moment of clarity she had planned to go home and take her life because she could not get past her daughter's death.

"Moving on" is a phrase I've come to hate. We don't move on. We move forward, taking every precious memory, sounds, smells and stories with us as we reach and struggle to bend toward the greater picture that encompasses every thought we muster to never forget. We beat our chests with questions that never get answered as we settle into a calming remembrance of moments lived when joy reigned.

I rest on this: He is near to the brokenhearted. Our Father who created you has not left you.

I know it seems so simple to think food has any place in the healing process of so great a wound. But the dinner table does. No greater an opportunity can be given but by gathering around a table to eat, to express, to love, to cherish and to create memories that will preserve and sustain when we experience the inevitability of love and loss.

Feed your babies and love them with laughter and joy.

CHICKEN TETRAZZINI

1/2 lb. of curly wide egg noodles

2 chicken breasts, grilled if you have time or use a rotisserie chicken and pull the meat

1 16 oz. carton of heavy whipping cream

2 cups parmesan cheese, grated

2 cups mozzarella cheese

1 cup red cherry tomatoes

2 cups chopped baby portabella mushrooms

2 cups fresh spinach

1/2 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

3 T. olive oil

1/2 cup gouda cheese

1 T. flour

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cook the pasta according to the package.

In a large skillet, sauté the onions, garlic, and mushrooms for 2 minutes. Add the flour and the tomatoes and heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the cream and bring to boil for 2 minutes. Add the cheeses and stir until smooth.

Add the pasta to a large 9-by-13-inch pan. Add the spinach and mix it in. Now add the cheese and mushroom sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese.

Turn the oven to broil. Brown the cheese. Serve.

Janet McCormick is a Lawrence County, Ohio, resident and the author of "10-Minute Meals." She can be reached at 304-654-2003 or www.10-minutemeals.com.

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