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What can a pineapple upside down cake teach us about grief?

By Kelly Klund

I am blessed with a loving, big, fun, boisterous family. The kind of family that is too loud, uses colorful language, picks on each other mercilessly and ends every visit and phone call with the word LOVE.  We shortened the more common phrase I love you. Why use three words when one will do?  My Uncle Harry started that.

Harry is responsible for a lot of things in our family like our love of agate hunting and the outrageous card games we play every holiday.  He is our patriarch (even though we have never used that word). When we are having a get together the first thing anyone asks is “What time is Harry coming?”

I grew up without a father. Harry is not just my uncle but also my father figure, friend and feels like a brother to me. He has been my go-to for all things male and he even walked me down the aisle at my wedding.

One of his favorite foods is pineapple upside down cake and I make it for him any time he asks. I don’t know if he loves it as much as I think he does, but he lets me believe that my pineapple upside down cake is the best thing ever made. Pineapple-post.png

Oh, and another thing about Harry…he is dying. Not dying in the way we are all dying, he is actively dying.  He is at the end of a courageous battle with liver cancer.  He asked that we all gather together today, to have one final time together as a family. Knowing what the answer would be, I asked him if there was anything special he wanted me to bring. We made eye contact, his voice was weak and he said, “Pineapple upside down cake”. Through tears that I was trying my hardest not to let him see, I nodded yes.

According to Christopher Hall, grief can be defined as the response to the loss in all of its totality – including its physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual manifestations – and as a natural and normal reaction to loss.   Loss and grief are fundamental to human life.

Historically, we have understood grief as progressive and predictable.  A widely recognized example of this model is the work done by Kübler-Ross in her text “On death and dying” which provides the framework for five stages of grief:   (1) shock /denial; (2) anger, resentment /guilt; (3) bargaining; (4) depression; and (5) acceptance.  This model suggested that inability to move through any of these stages would result in a variety of complications.

“Beyond Kübler-Ross: recent developments in our understanding of grief and bereavement” shifts away from the idea that successful grieving requires ‘letting go’, and instead moves us towards a recognition of the potentially healthy role of maintaining continued bonds with those who have passed away.

It is said that grief is the price we pay for love.  If that is true, I will happily “pay my bill”  every time I make  a Pineapple upside down cake and remember the gifts of my Uncle Harry’s infectious laugh, his generous spirit and the lessons he selflessly taught our family.

As you think about a loved one who is no longer living, instead of letting go, is there a way that you can express your grief by maintaining a bond?

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Hall C (2014) Bereavement theory: recent developments in our understanding of grief and bereavement

DOI: 10.1080/02682621.2014.902610

Beyond Kübler-Ross: recent developments in our understanding of grief and bereavement. InPsych 33(6), https://www.psychology.org.au/publications/inpsych/2011/december/hall/

Kübler-Ross, 1969

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