Who would have thought opening a few cans of Campbell's soup could conjure up so many different emotions? Guilt about the unabashed amount of sodium I am willing to feed my friends tonight. Nostalgia, as childhood memories of movie nights, important football games, cold rainy nights, or just because it was easy, flood my memory. Joy, as I remember her carefully cubing the Velveeta so it would melt evenly with the cans of Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup and other equally accessible ingredients. Sadness... as I realize how much I am missing her today.
Grief is such a living and ornery beast. Unpredictable, always skillfully hidden just below the surface, sometimes cruel, and always standing ready for a moment like this. An otherwise innocent interaction with a family memory teases the ever-present, inconsolable grief to the surface.
Mom's White Chili. I'd be willing to bet the recipe came off the back of a Velveeta cheese box sometime in the '80s, but I honestly have no idea. All I know is that I was drawn to make it today for a Halloween chili cook-off with friends, instead of my own. (Which, for the record, most certainly would have won.)
Mom died 8 years ago yesterday, and as I was searching for my recipe to be sure I had all the necessary ingredients on the grocery list, I saw her "White Chili" just below mine. It only seemed fitting that I make hers instead. It's been years since I made the almost dip-like chicken chili. I opened each can and poured them into the slow cooker. Diced the onions and sautéed them slowly so they didn't brown. Cubed the Velveeta, boiled and diced the chicken, and carefully stirred the mixture every so often so it wouldn't stick or scald in the pot.
With each step of this simple recipe, a complicated myriad of emotions began to consume me. I was prepared to feel this way yesterday. This week is really hard every year. Often I don't realize why I start curling up into my mind, and then I'll look at a calendar and understand what my subconscious already knew. It's been another year. Another round of birthdays, holidays, life changes, missed little moments, and conversations. The reminder of how intensely my identity shifted 8 years ago. I am now the matriarch of our family with big, beautiful, and grossly misfitted shoes to fill. I feel responsible for making sure we all stay close and connected. I feel the weight of the coming years and the truth that eventually it will just be my brother and me. The thought briefly sweeps through my mind that Dad will be next and I cannot imagine my heart being able to survive that loss.
Slowly but surely, as the silent tears make their way down my face, I can feel gratitude fighting its way to the surface.
As it has been since the first shower I took after my mom's passing, gratitude brings light and shares the weight of the memories. Sometimes it comes quickly. Sometimes it takes days. But I have grown patient and trustful that it will always come.
During that first shower, (As my Dad's front door morphed into a revolving entryway for the entire populace within 100 miles to stop in, sit around awkwardly, bring food, shake their heads, and repeat the same well-meaning platitudes as the visitors before them.) I became acutely aware that I needed an anchor to steel me from getting swept away in the tidal surge of this new reality. Not to mention the blinding, angry storm we were to face in the coming weeks as a family. That anchor... as it turns out, was gratitude.
Seems crazy, as I look back now, Had you asked me, there was absolutely nothing I could have imagined being grateful for in those first few days. But, as I stood silently in the stream of hot water, letting it wash over me, trying to will those past 48 hours out of existence, I opened my eyes and nearly let out a chuckle. "I do have something to be grateful for," I thought...and then audibly, "This f---ing shower." No one could talk to me in the steamy 11-square-foot sanctuary. No one could ask me if I was hungry. Tell me how sorry they were or how much Mom meant to them. There was no one to comfort, no unknown church member to greet. I couldn't see the pain on my brother's face or the defeat hanging on my dad's shoulders. I could cry freely, breathe deeply, be still, and wait for a hint of relief that I knew would not come for months. I was naked, behind a locked door, without even my cell phone in the room. I was suddenly, practically gleefully, grateful for that shower. I am pretty sure I showered at least twice a day for the first couple of weeks I was with my dad.
Today, 8 years later, gratitude is still my first line of defense against grief's unrelenting sneak attacks. Today, I am grateful for the memories of our little family gathered around the TV
watching whatever wholesome movie my mom had chosen for the night. I am grateful my dad is healthy and surrounded by family and friends who love and care for him so far away from Jimmy and me. I am grateful my kids have such loving and innumerable memories with my mother so we can share them as we heal. I am eternally grateful for my home and my 'teetering on the edge of sanity' circle of friends I am surrounded by today.
I have to admit, however, that in this moment, with a bowl full of White Chili, (FYI voted "Most Unusual" by the gaggle of my chili-loving crew, just hours before this journal entry.) thinking over the last 8 years... in THIS moment... I am most grateful for the undeniable feeling of warmth and security that is the direct result of the combined forces of a block of Velveeta and a couple cans of Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup.
Of course, after all that... I have to include this award-winning recipe!
Mom's White Chili
3 boiled and chopped chicken breasts
2 cans of great northern beans, drained
2 cans white shoe peg corn, drained
2 cans of cream of chicken soup
1 16 oz can of Rotel Tomatoes (original, drained)
1 14 oz can of chicken broth
1 large onion chopped
1 pound Mexican Velveeta cheese (regular works fine if you can't find the Mexican version)
Put 1st 6 ingredients in a large pot or slow cooker
Cook on low, stirring occasionally for about 1 1/2 hours. (Slow cooker may take closer to 2)
Add Velveeta cheese until cheese melts
If you feel it needs to be thinned, stir in chicken broth to desired thickness
Serve white corn tortilla chips. Makes approximately 8 servings
This blog is a personal collection of my thoughts, wins, losses, memories, and crossroad moments. Almost all of which were hashed out around my kitchen counter and in my journals. If any of it resonates with you and you are ready to free-up the hidden badass you ARE right now, I can help. It’s time… Click the link and Let’s chat.