Grief Risotto

April 17, 2016

When I got out of the hospital last Sunday, I was so incredibly grateful to be home. I was exhausted, but just walking through that front door, hugging my Minxy girls, bearing a frontal assault from the dog and a howling greeting from the dandruff-laden, aged cat, I felt so much better. I tended to the laundry, organized the girls’ school things and lunches for the morning, threw together a pasta dinner (despite my husband’s protests) and sunk into the couch with a sigh. Home is the place I most love in the world…well, except Santorini, Greece and Capri, Italy, but those are places of dreams, not reality. So home’s a close third, okay? I’ve had times in my life where home seemed like a prison (newborn babies) or a burden (appliance Armageddon/broken pipe disaster) but for the most part, I’m with Dorothy–home is where I want to be.

This past week was crazy with doctor follow-up visits and more testing. And then more testing. Despite blood pressure medication, my blood pressure is strangely changeable and at times, frighteningly fluid. Sometimes I get headaches and sometimes I spontaneously throw up and sometimes I am finer than fine. This week, I get to pee in a big orange jug for 24 hours and keep it on ice at all times, which is sad, sad proof that I am entering into crone territory. The Cullen Family is taking a lot more blood and there’s an echocardiogram on the books. I have all of my appointments etched into the wall calendar in the kitchen, inky proof that a lot’s rotten in Denmark.

Those things on the calendar are just annoyances, though. Things I have to remember to do, promises I have to keep. Not that I couldn’t re-schedule them if something came up.

Good thing, because something did.

Mama fell this past week. Hard. She got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and her legs failed. She came crashing down, whacked her head on the side of the bathtub and landed on her back. Disoriented and scared, she tried to get her legs to work but they wouldn’t. She lay on the cold bathroom tile for two whole hours, until she found the strength to drag her body across the room, open her bedroom door and holler for Daddy.

It gets hard for me when I think about those two hours she spent on the floor. What was going through her head? How lonely did she feel there, knowing she couldn’t do anything to help herself?

She has a concussion, of course (women in this family whack their heads with annoying frequency). And bruised ribs. She spent several days in bed, not eating, sleeping 90% of the time and not moving except to pee–which she needed assistance to do.

“Is she eating yet?” I asked Daddy on the second day of bedrest.

“Dana, she’s never awake,” he said. “You know how sleepy you get with concussions.”

“She needs to eat something, though,” I said.

“She refuses. You know your mother.” I could almost hear him shaking his head through the phone. “She’s so damn stubborn.”

“She’ll eat tomorrow,” I said. “Even if I have to force-feed her myself.”


My father is many, many good things, but a cook he is not. If things are dire, he can make a peanut butter and pickle sandwich or a bologna roll-up. He is not even fluent in the language of takeout. My mother has always cooked dinner for him and if she hasn’t cooked it, they eat out. He had NO–absolutely no idea–how one orders food on the internet. Eventually, I had to spell it out to him.

Rules of Takeout for Daddy:

1) Get on the Google

2) Google nearby restaurants or, if you don’t have any idea, Google “food near me” and enter your zip code

3) Pick restaurant, click

4) Once there, click: website or menu

5) Find acceptable food to eat

6) Call, order, explicitly say “take-out for pick-up.”

7) Listen when they tell you what time to arrive and go pick up your shit.


Moments like this are so funny to me because things that seem intuitive to my generation are sometimes completely foreign to the one before it, and I forget that. Daddy can navigate easily on his computer, but he never thought of ordering food on the thing. My generation rarely eats in restaurants anymore because we’d rather pick the food up on the fly. I guess it’s kind of like my 14-year old daughter trying to explain Instagram and Snapchat to me. I seem like a total blockhead but I just can’t wrap my head around those things–the WHY or HOW or PURPOSE?

At least with takeout, there’s purpose. Like, dinner.


The morning of day 3, I started to get worried about Mama not eating. Daddy can survive on Smashburger and Der Weinerschnitzel for the rest of his life, but Mama has a delicate stomach. I decided that I needed to make something that she could eat off of for a few days–something comforting and easy on the belly and simple enough that Daddy could just plop some in a bowl, heat it in the microwave, and hand it to her with a big spoon.

I remember this Easter, Mama talked about a risotto I made for her last December, when she was feeling poorly.

“I loved that risotto so much,” she said, dreamy-eyed. “I’ve never dared make risotto. It seems so hard. But it was creamy and comforting and just what I wanted to eat.”

“Mom! I didn’t know you liked it that much,” I said. “Now that I know, I’ll make it again for you, okay? It’s no trouble.”

So I made it.

I made it for her this week because I needed to feed her and I desperately needed for things to be okay. I figured that if I made it, and she ate it, things would be okay.

I actually cheated a little and tried a new recipe where you make the risotto in the oven, because I had a bazillion follow-up doctor’s visits to go to and the girls had standardized testing week and things were freakazoid weird but Mama deserved risotto, and I really wanted to bring her a big pot of it and see her smile. And eat.

I made it, tasted it, and it was delicious. Toothsome, creamy, and perfumed with saffron and salty cheese–I knew she would love it. I hauled the big Dutch oven to the refrigerator, ready to deliver it to her in the morning.


Over that evening and into the night, she developed pneumonia. Her blood pressure dropped to 72/40 and she was laboring to breathe. Daddy called 911, although she was adamant that she didn’t want to go. She was admitted to intensive care and remains there, still. She couldn’t get enough breath on her own, so they’ve intubated her and it’s a horrible looking thing, that tube down the throat. She is not lucid often.

We don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe it’s better that we don’t think about it too much. I have medical power of attorney, so I definitely don’t want to think about it too much.

But more than anything, I don’t want to think about that big Dutch oven of risotto in the refrigerator. I hauled it out to the refrigerator in the damn garage because I can’t look at that Dutch oven. I may never eat risotto again.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara April 17, 2016 at 4:50 pm

I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am. Everything bad seems to happen all at once….I’m praying for you and your mom.


Abby April 17, 2016 at 5:23 pm

I’m so sorry Dana, as when it rains, it pours a shit storm. This is not to take away from your pain, but these past few months for me have been more than a shit storm with doctors, bills, wondering what I’m doing here, pain, confusion, frustration. You name it, sister.

My point is that I feel your pain, and my heart aches for you. There are so many things we can’t control, so many things that piss us off and frustrate us and cause us pain inside and out. It sucks, no other way to say it. Those are the times you have to find a least one or two things to help. It’s a band-aid, but dammit, it can work. Make that meal. Savor the taste. Savor the prep and the smells and the company. You put love into everything you do and make, and those around you know it and will give it right back when you need it — me included. XO


elizabeth April 17, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Oh, TKW–I’ve sent you an email. Sending you all of the good thoughts and many, many Valium Salt Licks.


Jenny Hartin April 17, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Sending you love.


Leigh Ann April 17, 2016 at 6:29 pm

Oh, this is crushing, yet beautiful. You and your family are in my thoughts.


Biz April 17, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Dana – sending huge hugs your way that your Momma will be on the road to recovery soon – hugs!!


Alexandra Rosas April 17, 2016 at 8:03 pm

I know my prayer for tonight.

From the bottom of my heart.

I want her to eat that risotto.


Ayala April 18, 2016 at 3:44 am

I am so sorry Dana. My prayers go out to you and your mom. Xox


Arnebya April 18, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Aw, honey. Prayers for Mama, and for you. Shit, prayers for Daddy and everybody else too.


tina filbert April 18, 2016 at 4:21 pm

oh honey. praying for you and your mom and dad, and family. sending good vibes, positive juju, whatever you need. crossed fingers, knocking on wood. thanks for keeping us in your circle. we are pulling for you all. XO


Karin April 18, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Dana, this is the first time I’ve left a comment although I’ve followed your blog for years! You’re the friend I’ve never met. I’m thinking of you and your mom and praying for a quick recovery. Xoxo, Karin in DC


Caitlin April 18, 2016 at 7:10 pm

what a beautifully written piece. sending prayers for your mother. xoxo


kate April 19, 2016 at 2:51 am

I’m so sorry, these are scary times… and you may just toss the risotto, dutch oven included, if you want… whatever you need.


Erica April 19, 2016 at 8:21 am

Lots of love.


Maureen April 20, 2016 at 6:12 pm

Oh God, Dana. I hate this for you. Sending you all the love, comfort and hugs in the (completely unfair) universe. My heart aches for you all.


Velva April 21, 2016 at 11:53 am

Dana, I read this and went immediately to Facebook thinking I know she is awake now (Yay). Get another pot of risotto ready she is on the mend!

Lot of love to you.


tina filbert April 21, 2016 at 1:37 pm

i cant view any of the comments. at all? i use a mac.


Foodiewife April 22, 2016 at 11:21 am

I’ve been MIA from so many blogs, this last year. I popped in to see what’s going on in your life. My heart went out to your mom, picturing her just laying helpless. That happened to my own mom, only she lived on her own. I’m so sorry. I’m equally sorry she’s not doing so well, at this time. I hope she makes a full recovery. Bless you.


Kel April 22, 2016 at 4:16 pm

Oh man, Dana. You have had a rough few weeks.

I don’t have any words of wisdom, but please know that you’ve got love coming from NC.


Pamela April 24, 2016 at 1:35 am

Oh Dana, I am just reading his now. I am so sorry – what a hard time this is. I am so sorry about your mama. I can’t imagine how devastating. I am sending you loads of love and prayers for healing.



Tess April 25, 2016 at 6:08 pm

I found your blog site from another friend – Alexandra Rosas. First of all – you are a wonderful writer, thank you for sharing your stories. You had me laughing a bit with telling your dad how to order food, “go to THE google”; but you quickly had me biting my lip and wishing I wasn’t reading where this was going. I am so very sorry your mom is not feeling well. I so hope she gets over this pneumonia. All my love, ~Tess


Dana Talusani April 26, 2016 at 3:06 am


So nice to meet you and thanks for commenting (and isn’t Alexandra the BEST?) I am having issues with comments not showing up for others to see publicly on the blog and am trying to work that out, but I stink at that kind of stuff. In the meantime, I wanted to let you know that *I* can see you and I hope you’ll stick around! ~Dana


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