Why I didn’t want to tell my son about the death of Anthony Bourdain

I didn’t even know him.

Not really.

But yet it was almost like losing a close friend.

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Photo by the Wall Street Journal digital artwork by Lisa R. Howeler

I’d had a crappy night of sleep with two sick kids and I had reached for my phone to see what time it was. There it is was on my screen- a note from my sister in law expressing shock to the obituary story she had attached.

“No. It isn’t possible.”

I thought this over and over in my bleary-eyed, not fully awake state.

The man who had taken me around the world so many times without me even having to leave my house was dead. I typed out the word “nooo!” to my sister-in-law, as if that word would stop it from being true.

I felt numb and sick to my stomach. It must have been his heart, I thought.

Or something he ate.

He was always eating weird things and something finally got him. Or a car accident or his plane went down while they were traveling to somewhere exotic.

My heart sank when I clicked the link. I was in shock when I read the words.

Suicide?!

Suicide?

Suicide.

It’s like the word wouldn’t even make sense to me.

Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide.

I follow him on social media and recently I had noticed he was looking thin and tired but he travels a lot so I figured he was exhausted. It had been a stressful couple of years. A whirlwind break-up followed by a whirlwind romance and then all that traveling.

Now all that traveling I loved to watch him do was over and the only trip he’d most likely be making was a one-way flight back to the states to be buried.

Suicide.

I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the horror of it all and the horror for Eric Ripert, his best friend, to find him that way. And his daughter. Oh, my heart ached and my head felt funny at the thought of her being told.

I’ve never been a traveler – partially because of finances and partially because I’ve lived a life of fear. Tony made me want to live a life of courage in my small world and if I couldn’t go to all those fancy places just yet I could at least watch him visit them. My son learned about much of the world from a very young age while his dad and I traveled with Tony.

We let him watch episodes we probably shouldn’t have at 4 and 5 and he was introduced to death on an episode where a pig was slaughtered. Granted, this was the age when “No Reservations” was already streaming so we could fast forward the scene, but my kid is wise beyond his years and he knew what was happening despite our attempts to shield him.

We haven’t been able to shield him much these last couple years – not from heartache and anxiety and death. First, the big loss was our dog of 14 years, the dog that had always been his. Then it was a 17-year-old cat, again there all his 11 years. Then the worst blow came four days after Christmas this year when he lost his great-aunt, who had lived with his grandparents since he was four. His head was spinning. School pressure was mounting. Panic attacks were becoming the norm.

We’ve walked through it with him with every loss, every question, every tear, and every crying storm. All the advice says you have to tell your child directly and bluntly about the person who has died so they don’t feel they are being lied to or misled.

When I told my son about his great aunt I was apparently too blunt. I was so nervous because I’d never had to tell him something so hard – not even the death of his dog could compare to this. I blurted out “Dianne died.”

Died. I used the word died because all the articles I found on Google told me to. “Don’t use the words ‘passed on’ or ‘went to a better place,’” the proverbial “they” said. “It needs to be clear to the child the person is dead and never coming back.”

I was so numb from the sudden loss I really didn’t think it through because that advice was for young people, not 11-year olds who clearly know the meaning of the word “dead” but would also understand the term “passed away” would mean the same thing.

He clearly knows what death is and here I was that morning knowing I needed to rip the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death off like a band-aid but, ugh, crap and darn it all to hell, I simply didn’t want to. Especially because I had to add the word “suicide” to the ripping.

“For a little while today I’ll shelter him,” I told myself. “We don’t have cable so he won’t hear it there.”

And all the traditional advice says the news of death must come from someone the child loves so I knew I couldn’t shelter him for long.

The ripping started with the lifting of the edge and then just one fast, hard pull. When I told him he said “oh that’s sad,” but he didn’t take it as hard as I thought. He did, however, express the same denial I did when I told him they thought he’d taken his own life.

“That’s just not possible,” he said. “I don’t believe that part of the story.”

We both agreed it wasn’t possible and we comforted ourselves in our denial of it all.

What Anthony Bourdain taught me

“[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.”
― Anthony Bourdain

I’m not sure how healthy it is to cry off and on for two days over the death of a person you didn’t even know but this week I have done that.

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Photo from nuvomagazine.com

Cutting myself a little slack, I know some of the emotions from the death of writer and former “chef” Anthony Bourdain stem from the still raw loss of my aunt, and the unsteady feeling I now live with that my world is tilting a bit off kilter. Bourdain was a man who called himself simply a “cook” when others called him a chef and became well known after writing an essay about working in the cooking industry and even more well known from a show on the Travel Network called “No Reservations” and his recent TV foray on CNN called “Parts Unknown.”

I don’t like change. I never have. I’m a creature of habit and like my routines. I don’t like things to be different, no matter if it’s a change in my toothpaste to a change in who is in my life. I don’t mind spontaneous moments or last minute plan changes, within reason, but I don’t like when that change of plan includes the removal of people from my life.

Anthony Bourdain wasn’t really part of my life, yet he was. He was who I listened to when I needed to be reminded the world was bigger than this small town I lived in. He was who I went to when I needed to remember I may have had a cruddy day but there was always great tasting, delicious food available to be cooked and sampled to make it seem a little better.

My family watched reruns of No Reservations on Saturday nights and I cooked while the dishes Tony ate inspired me to try harder to create something worth eating.

When I say Tony reminded me there was food to help my day seem better, I don’t mean it in that unhealthy “using food as a crutch” way. It’s simply that food is good and good tasting food is even better. We are humans and we need to eat and if we are going to eat we might as well eat food that tastes good. Good tasting food doesn’t always mean processed, crap food, either, as Tony showed on his shows.

Yeah, sure he featured scenes of him gorging on some of the most disgusting processed, chemically-laced food you’ve ever seen more than a few hundred times over the years but he also showcased some of the most simple, divine and flavorful dishes on the planet created with some of the most delicious and healthy ingredients known to man.

To be honest, I didn’t see Anthony Bourdain living much beyond his 60s. I always thought he would die from a heart attack induced by some of the garbage he shoved into his pie hole, as he might call it. The thought of a day when he wasn’t around to watch do crazy things and eat even more bizarre things was always unsettling to me so I tried not to think about it. I knew it would come, though, but I thought it would be years from now and from a plane crash, a diving accident, food poisoning, a shark attack, not from his body hanging from the end of a bathrobe belt.

Anthony and I didn’t agree when it came to the spiritual world. He was an outspoken atheist, maybe sometimes an agnostic, and I have always been a Christian. There are lessons he taught with his life that I don’t want to learn from, nor or they lessons I care for my children to heed. By his own admission, he did too many drugs and drank too much (though he had been drug free for many years before he died) and he frequented places I never would have. Still, I learned a lot from Anthony Bourdain, and not just what not to do.

For one, he taught me to live fully and ironically he taught me this one even more so by his death.

Anthony definitely knew how to go out and experience every bit of life he could – traveling to every country you could think of, eating meals and meeting people wherever he went. I don’t experience every bit of life and it’s a change I hope I can make in the future. I want to experience freely and fearlessly, while recognizing the need to shield body and soul from things that could steal the joy of life from me.

Anthony showed me how to taste fully, breathe fully, feel fully, laugh loudly and immerse myself wholeheartedly in life. He did that and I wish I knew what made him forget how amazing that could be.

With all that traveling, much of it without his family, it’s clear that Anthony probably faced some very lonely nights. Lonely nights where he was trapped with his thoughts, fears, regrets.

Maybe he regretted not seeing his daughter more, of leaving two wives, of drinking too much, hurting too many. We don’t yet know what drove him to end his life the way he did but it’s really no surprise the demons he battled with finally overtook him and drowned out the voice of reason and hope and the love he’d always had for life. Some don’t believe in real demons, but I do. I believe in servants of the devil who whisper lies in our ears.

“You’re not good enough.”

“You will never realize your dream.”

“You’re a horrible mother.”

“You are unloveable and indescribably impossible to care about.”

“You’ll never be worthy of love.”

Who knows what lies were whispered in Anthony Bourdain’s ears that night. Whispers that grew to deafening screams that he only knew one way to drown out. I can’t save Anthony Bourdain. I wish I could. Oh, how I wish I could. But maybe we can save someone else. Maybe we can drown out the whispers with words of life. Words of hope. And the word of truth.

For we are all wonderfully made.

We were created out of love by an ultimate creator to be loved and to show love.

And you, and I, were created to life fully alive.

So let’s do that until God decides it’s time for us to live fully with Him.

I don’t know if living life fully is what Anthony Bourdain would have thought his life, and even his death, would have taught someone, but both were worthy lessons for me to learn.

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