This post has been written, re-written, avoided, agonized over, etc since deciding to post. Not because I didn’t want to, but just because…well, what do you say? I’m avoiding my grief, I’m avoiding thinking about it too hard. But I want to say something. After all, she meant so much to me, to my family. So here it goes…
In December 2016, I lost my nana.
It wasn’t really an unexpected moment — she had been sick for many years, and in and out of the hospital from 2015 to 2016.
We all had a chance to say goodbye and to tell her we loved her. And even though she was intubated and falling asleep with her mouth propped open, she nodded — and she knew.
I cooked this recipe for chicken curry — something she made for herself almost weekly — based on some scribbled notes on yellow legal pad paper, written on a day that I visited nana, determined to save my family’s recipes. She sat and recounted how to make the foods I remember eating growing up; from yellow daal to seeni sambol.
Nana had cooked no less than 3 Sri Lankan dishes, and more often 5 for every holiday I can remember. Even if we planned to eat turkey and all the regular American Thanksgiving Foods. She would sometimes bring batches of cutlets to fry at our house, in a little pink tub, and she made sure I was the first to know when she was done cooking them, so I could claim the first bite.
She grew up in Sri Lanka. She married when she was 18 years old, to a man named Mark whom she always called “Dyson” (his middle name), and she had three children — my mom the youngest, and the only girl. She used to watch me during summer breaks and sometimes secretly let me join her on the couch to see “Days of Our Lives” or “General Hospital.”
As she grew older, she lost most of her eyesight, and she was pretty lonely. Her husband died in 2000. She wasn’t great at socializing at the retirement home, because everyone else wanted to talk about their American high school experiences, and she dropped out of 8th grade in Sri Lanka. And that was normal.But she came to all of our events — our birthdays, soccer games, talent shows, graduations, public speaking events, plays. I took pride in introducing her to my friends, ever since I realized that it was actually hard for other people to understand her — with her thick accent. I felt like she and I shared a secret code and I could interpret what she said to others — even though it was in perfect English.
It’s hard to convey what it feels like to lose her. I can tell you what she did. I can tell you what we did as a family. But I can’t really say how deeply it hurts know I won’t a garbled phone call on my birthday from nana, no matter where I am in the world. Or a scribbled card or note. Or see her again at Christmas or Thanksgiving.
When I married my husband, Jon, his family sent me a PDF with their family’s recipes, from up to three generations ago. So I determined to record and capture the recipes of my own family as part of our cultural heritage. This blog was the beginning of that effort, and so far, I’ve only ever posted one other Sri Lankan recipe (Love Cake). So here’s to rebooting and chronicling our family history through the recipes of people who have already lived, loved, and passed on.