Chances are good that you already know what food will be served at your funeral. That’s because there’s comfort in the familiarity of passed-down traditions. The presence of specific foods and drinks is the common denominator at wakes and funerals across various cultures.
There’s a somewhat scientific reason why food plays an integral role in the mourning process. According to Michelle Palmer, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and the executive director of D.C.’s Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, the acute phase of grief significantly disrupts regular eating habits, and lasts up to three months.
While some overeat to fill what feels like a void, Palmer says others experience a significant loss of appetite. “Either they have GI upset so their stomach is sour and food sounds unappetizing, or their grief fills all the way to the top of their throat and the thought of swallowing feels impossible,” she says.
“The nervous system is over-activated,” Palmer continues. “There’s adrenaline and cortisol, like being in a fight-or-flight situation. If you think about when there’s adrenaline running through your system, the last thing you want to do is eat.” Palmer believes the meals that follow funerals are about coaxing the grief-stricken into eating.