There’s no easy recipe for dealing with pancreatic cancer.
In a space where I rely on certain structures of form, images, and ideas, I can’t find a formula to talk about profound grief. I can’t make the connections between a recipe, a photo, and words of sorrow. How does a culinary writer approach the topic of death and not reference about food? Is it appropriate to talk about loss and an easy-to-make pizza?
Ever since I found out pancreatic cancer took my friend Tom “TC” Cheever in January I’ve struggled to find a way to express my grief.
Just 43 years old, my friend was a well-respected improvisational comedian, sketch comedy writer, the father of three beautiful kids, a loving partner, and friend to all who knew him. No one expected pancreatic cancer could overtake the bright light that was TC. I certainly didn’t. He was a big, hearty guy with a laugh that could wring the awkwardness from any moment.
TC embodied improvisational comedy’s most important rule: say yes to everything. He leapt into improvised scenes with a big smile and his arms outstretched like a catcher ready for anything. I swear, he made every scene he was in better.
But now that TC’s gone, I’m left with an unexpected void and an uneasy silence.
The inelegant return
There is no dish that pairs well with pancreatic cancer. No well-lit photo of a plate of food to distract myself from the sadness. No pithy story that ties up the ends of a beautiful life cut short by fate in tasteful bows.
I can not turn to a traditional post to find my way through this. Instead, I celebrate my friend’s life through memories and story telling with friends. I fill up the space with love and service–getting into action is always the best way to move through pain and fear–but it’s a slow, incremental process to mend the fissure.
“I have nothing to complain about in my life,” TC said in a speech he wrote for his memorial. “And neither should you.”
It’s true. There’s nothing to complain about. I am alive. I have words to play with. Meals to make with friends. Time left to show up and –if I can muster it– be of service to everyone I meet.
TC taught me to say YES to everything–even the hard stuff. Say yes to the sadness. Say yes to the discomfort. Say yes to healing. Yes to the possibility of what the next yes will bring.