It's nearing my father's anniversary, and in the next few days, just as in the days preceding my mother's, I retrace my steps of how I spent the last few days with him on this earth. What we did together, what I said, and most importantly what he said to me. Recently, I wrote about my experience of grief for one of my Home Nurse columns, in Irish Country Living, so I'd like to share that with you today.

My mother passed away in 2007, and a few years later I lost my father. Both times, my upset was inconsolable. In my experience, grief emulates a terrible illness. Even though I had my abilities; I wasn’t bed-bound due to any physical condition, yet in those early weeks of grieving I was incapable of much more than washing and dressing myself. I was feeling physically sick, physically weak, and the intensity of the pain in the pit of my stomach was very real. In the weeks after losing a loved one grief is all-consuming, but months or even years after it can raise its head and hit like a bolt into the stomach.

We often grieve as a community, especially if the death is unexpected. When words fail to comfort our support is often shown through actions. Since the beginning of time, there has always been a place for the community to nurture and feed the bereaved. It seems to be a practice that is standard in most communities and religions worldwide. In the early days of grieving this generosity and kindness can somewhat sustain us and fuel us to be physically able to face the day. After my mother passed away, I was so nauseated with sadness even nibbles of toast and bites of sandwiches were a struggle to consume. However, a kind neighbour arrived at my mother's wake with a large tray filled with a creamy chicken bake. As much as I fought the urge to fulfill the basic human need of eating, I accepted a plateful of this chicken dish and I remember vividly how it warmed my empty stomach and quenched the hunger pains I hadn't even acknowledged were there. At times of sadness, most of us have little or no interest in food, yet it is never more important that we eat well, as a means to keep up our physical strength. A nourishing bowl of food won’t ease the heartache of grief, but it will give a much-needed energy boost to the body. Warm and comforting stews, soups and puddings have that ability.

As the weeks and months pass after losing a loved one, we need to listen to our bodies, which are trying hard to get us to slow down. I remember being overcome with severe tiredness in the month's proceeding both of my parent's deaths. This was hugely influenced by the broken sleep and the sheer anxiety of losing someone I loved so dear. On reflection, I feel in many ways, that over-whelming tiredness was my body urging me to stop, to allow the pressures of day-to-day life to be brushed to one side and simply to be still. Rest and sleep are vital while we grieve. Fuelling our body with nourishing, comforting foods can help. Keeping well hydrated is always vital. While talking and reminiscing about our loved one is ever so important. Writing down memories, which may be a painful exercise, can turn into a rewarding process, and most of all accepting the support of loved ones around us helps to provide a little bit of light and love into the darkness of our grief.

Comforting Chicken Stew with Herbed Dumplings

I have fond memories of devouring big bowlfuls of stew as a young girl. My mother would always have the addition of mini dumplings, and I loved diving in with my spoon to see how many I could retrieve. The dumplings in this dish are more substantial, allowing for two or three per serving. Their soft and fluffy texture merge wonderfully with the flavoursome, rich sauce. This stew is both comforting and nourishing.

1tbsp olive oil
180g streaky bacon, roughly chopped
3 carrots, finely diced
2 onions, finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely diced
200g mushrooms, cut into quarters
Freshly ground pepper
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1.2 ltr hot chicken stock
2tbsp tomato purée
4-5 chicken fillets, cut in half

250g self-raising flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
125g butter, cold-straight from the fridge
1 tbsp cold water


1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C /Gas mark 6.
2. Add the oil to a large, oven-proof saucepan or casserole dish. Place over a high heat. Add the streaky bacon and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
3. Turn down the heat and add the carrot, celery, onion, and mushroom. Season with a little black pepper. Cook for five mins until slightly golden then add the herbs, chicken stock, and tomato purée.
4. Bring to a simmer and add the chicken. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for 45 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, make the dumplings by placing the flour in a mixing bowl. Season with a little salt and pepper, and add the herbs. Finely chop or grate in the cold butter. Gently rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add a tbsp of cold water and bring the dough together to form a ball. If it's not sticking together, add a little more cold water. Divide the dough into 12-15 pieces and roll each one into a ball. 
6. Take the stew from the oven and nestle the dumplings on top of the cooked stew, pushing each one down into the stew so that it is halfway submerged. Place the lid back on the dish/saucepan and return to the oven for an additional 30 mins. At this time, take off the lid and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes.
7. When ready to serve, lift the dumplings out and place in serving bowls. Stir the stew and then ladle it over the dumplings. Serve with mashed potatoes and peas.

This is an extract from my Irish Country Living Column, August 2019.