16) Make a meal (or buy a gift certificate) for a mom who’s just given birth or adopted a child, or for someone who’s just gone through a loss.—“56 Ways to Be Merciful During the Jubilee Year of Mercy”
I remember those early days: After an arduous trip halfway across the world, I was finally home, a first-time mother, with traumatized four-year-old twins who couldn’t speak English and my husband had to go right back to work. I was exhausted and sick, my daughters wanted to be carried all the time — at the same time — and we were in meltdown mode a good part of the day. Forget about taking a shower or a phone call or leaving the house for five minutes. If it weren’t for friends bringing meals every so often, I would have been in trouble.
As lovely as congratulations messages and gifts were, meals and grocery store runs were what I valued most in those early weeks. My husband and I didn’t need anyone to help us with our kids — only the two of us could do that as we focused on bonding with our new daughters. What we did need was to not have to worry about getting meals on the table, and to know we had lots of bananas, eggs and bread in the house — pretty much all our daughters would eat when they first arrived.
I’ll never forget the visit of one particular meal-bearer. We had never met before, but she’d adopted twin girls herself two and half years earlier who were now the age of my daughters. She sat on my couch, looked me in the eye, and said, “I totally get it; I understand what you’re going through right now,” and then before leaving she handed me some glass containers full of homemade vegetable curry, with rice, and salad — as well as her contact info. (Needless to say, the two of us are now great friends, and so are our children.)
There were also people who didn’t get it one bit, and still, in their kindness, eased our burden more than they’ll ever know. Neighbors brought us a homemade meal every week for six weeks after we got home. One friend — also an adoptive parent — drove almost two hours to bring us a new recipe she had made specifically with our daughters in mind. Someone else called a restaurant and had dinner delivered to us one evening.
Three and a half years later I still feel deep gratitude for the people who kept us fed back then, who didn’t try to do anything more than say, “Made this for you, thinking about you, let me know if you need anything.” And I try to remember that now when I hear about someone else who’s adopted, or given birth, or may be going through something intense and all-consuming, like dealing with a sick loved one or a death in the family.
More to read: An old-world Mary Poppins beats my post-partum blues
It’s usually the first week of a major life event when the help rushes in, but sometimes the best time to show up with a meal is two, three, or more weeks later. By then, most people have gone home to their busy lives and schedules, but the mom and dad adjusting to a new addition, the worried parent with a hospitalized kid, or the grieving spouse, are often still waking up, wondering how they’ll get through the day. Big transitions take time, and even when they are joyous occasions, they’re often physically demanding and emotionally exhausting.
There are many ways to help, of course — prayers, words of support, errand-running, gifts — all important and appreciated. But there’s something special about bringing a meal. It’s comforting and nurturing. It gives recipients the feeling of being provided for and provides a sense of connection to the wider world at a time when they may feel very cut off. When you bring a meal, you’re giving something of yourself without being intrusive. The gesture is an act of mercy, a concrete way to lessen someone’s daily burden — because let’s face it, getting food on the table on the best of days can be daunting.
The most welcome meals are always those you can actually eat so it’s helpful to know about food preferences and dietary restrictions, if possible. (Think nourishing.) But even if you don’t, bring something anyway: A family’s visitors and guests still need to be fed; a bag of fruit, veggies and bread goes a long way; gift certificates to a local take-out restaurants are helpful; and homemade baked goods always communicate love.
If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, the way to a woman’s heart — especially a new mom’s — is through a delicious family meal left on her doorstep. Remember the power such a gift can be during this Year of Mercy.
Zoe Romanowsky is lifestyle editor and video curator for Aleteia.