Today I am baking cookies for a memorial service. Cookies for a funeral. They are cookies of celebration. They are cookies of grief.
What sort of cookies, I wonder, does one make for a funeral? Is it appropriate to ask? Is it ridiculous to wonder? Do I make healthy, whole-wheat and flax seed cookies, sober and serious? Cookies that can sustain someone after hours of weeping and shaking and nights of not sleeping? Do I make decadent rich double-chocolate, dark as the death that has come and yet sweet as the life that has passed? Cookies in which one can indulge, even drown? Bright lemon drop cookies? Buttery chocolate chip?
There will be 32 dozen other cookies already, brought by the friends and the family, the ones who mourn deepest. Cookies from people who know exactly what sort of cookies you bring to such an occasion. What more can I add to the array already present? How will my batch of oatmeal raisin make any difference in a room already so full of sweetness and sorrow and “I’m sorry, I’m so very sorry”? Will it matter if I’m early or late or if I bring them at all? Is my contribution even needed among all the others flooding into the Fellowship Hall? The cookies that were expected? The cookies that really matter?
The answer, I decide, is yes.
I asked what I could do, asked if there was anything (really, anything ) and I was told that I could bring cookies. To be honest, I was grateful for the task, for any task that would direct my desire to help carry the grief of the mourners and their loved ones.
Our souls were not wired to deal with death. We don’t know what to do, what to say in the face deep tragedy. There are so many wrong things and so many things wrong. There are trite and thoughtless and standard responses. Sometimes stating that, “There are no words,” are the only words we have.
Still, we bring our sympathies. We send cards and sponsor flowers. We say “I’m sorry” as if we must apologize for the cruelness of death; as if the brokenness in the world is our personal responsibility. We say “I’m sorry,” when what we really mean is “I can’t believe this either. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up. The whole fact of this brokenness breaks me. It reminds me of my humanity. It reminds me of how much I love you.” What we mean to say is, “I love you,” but instead what we say is “I’m sorry.” And the way that we say that varies.
We give hugs and make casseroles. We ask if there’s anything we can do, really anything at all. And in the face of too many offers made in the murky haze of bereavement, sometimes we are asked to make cookies. And even if cookies don’t seem like the best way to utilize our offerings, even we believe we are capable of doing so much more than cookies—of washing windows, directing traffic, setting up meals, or packing the pews full of Kleenex—we bake cookies.
We fill them with our love and our sorrow, our wordless sympathies and unnamed feelings. We drizzle them with honey and impart them with prayers. Because sometimes we don’t know what to say in the face of a grief so heavy or a loss so deep. Sometimes we must simply bake cookies.