When we lost my beloved father-in-law after an extended and somewhat tortuous road of a fall, surgery to repair the broken hip, two different rehabs followed by yet another fall and another broken hip. The traveling back and forth to his retirement home in Florida for each of these stages took a lot out of everybody, and when the end came it was with incredible sadness but a bit of relief too – for him and for us.
Our religious tradition brings friends and relatives to our home each evening to join us in a brief prayer service and to extend their condolences and take care of us. Nobody arrives with empty hands.
Some bring meals – nourishing soups, healthy fruit, bagels that we can put into our stomachs without thinking or preparing – but those who know us best brought us chocolate. The dining room table was so laden with chocolate chip cookies, brownies, chocolate dipped fruit, chocolate-covered pretzels that it made us laugh just to look at it, and to think of how our friends knew exactly what foods would make us feel most loved and pampered.
The bounty was so extreme that a few days later I put together an assortment of cookies and other goodies and brought them to our next door neighbor – with two little girls, I knew that the sweets would be put to good use. When the mom opened the door and saw what I had in my hands, she both extended her condolences and accepted with gratitude, explaining that it would help them drown their sorrows as they’d just had to put their dog to sleep. “Nothing makes the girls feel better like chocolate,” she said, as she thanked me again.
I walked away glad that I’d thought of them, and wondering at the almost universal power that this simple flavor has to restore the spirit. I did a quick tour of the internet and read about a woman who has such powerful positive memories of sharing chocolate with her father through her childhood that she honors his memory every year by passing out bars of chocolate to total strangers on his birthday, telling each one the story of their shared love of the treat. There are some who will tell you about chocolate’s impact on the brain – they’ll speak of caffeine and endorphins and the chemical make-up of the treat. But I believe that the reason chocolate works so well on a broken heart goes to memories and associations. From the time we are little chocolate is the food of comfort, the treat, the reward, the expression of love.
Hot chocolate warmed you after a day out in the cold, a Hershey’s kiss surprise in your lunch bag with a note from Mom reminded you that she loved you. Chocolate ice cream cones on hot summer nights, licking the bowl after Mom makes brownies … when we eat chocolate it is the accumulated warmth of all of those memories that are the background music that makes us feel so cared for and loved, especially when we’re sad. I appreciated all the chicken soup too, but for me and mine, bring chocolate to heal the soul.