Nadiya Hussain on how cooking helped to ease family grief

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·6 min read
Nadiya Hussain has opened up about how cooking has helped her cope with family grief, pictured in May 2019. (Getty Images)
Nadiya Hussain has opened up about how cooking has helped her cope with family grief, pictured in May 2019. (Getty Images)

Nadiya Hussain has revealed that cooking has helped to ease the grief she felt after the recent death of a family member.

The Great British Bake Off winner, 37, has opened up about how the family coped with the grief after revealing in June that her sister-in-law Ramana had passed away from cancer at the age of 34.

“In difficult, dark moments like that it is really tough to function normally," Hussain told Radio Times.

“It’s the first time I’ve experienced a loss so close to my family and it’s going to affect us for ever. But what I did notice was that, even in death, food becomes central.

“It’s the thing that brings everyone together. We were having to accommodate her family, making sure they were fed and looked after.

“And that was all (through) food. It was, ‘Let’s cook. Let’s make them things that they enjoy.’

“It was all food-centred. It put a smile on people’s faces (and) gave them sustenance.”

Read more: Male grief: How to cope and where to seek help

Hussain recently lost her sister-in-law to cancer, pictured in October, 2018 (Getty Images for Swarovski)
Hussain recently lost her sister-in-law to cancer, pictured in October, 2018 (Getty Images for Swarovski)

In May, Hussain posted a video telling her Instagram followers that her family was having a “tough time” before announcing the death in late June.

In the video, the mum-of-three said: “It’s been a difficult, sad time for our family, we have had a huge loss in our family which we were expecting but nothing really prepares you for that.

“Nothing really prepares you for death even though it is inevitable. We lost our sister-in-law who was 34 and it has been a really tough time for our family all around, my brother-in-law and their kids, and just my family as a whole.

“He has been an absolute inspiration, his wife right up until the end was the strongest person I know and she has taught us so much and that’s why we have not been around because we have been focusing on our family and being there for each other.”

Hussain's sister-in-law was married to husband Akmoul, brother of Hussain’s husband Abdal, and the couple shared two children.

How can cooking and baking help with grief?

According to the NHS, bereavement, grief and loss can cause many different symptoms and they affect people in different ways.

Some of the most common symptoms include: shock and numbness, overwhelming sadness, with lots of crying, tiredness or exhaustion and anger – towards the person you've lost or the reason for your loss.

Some people also may feel guilt guilt, for example, guilt about feeling angry, about something you said or did not say, or not being able to stop your loved one dying.

Physical symptoms may include insomnia, lack of focus, pain - from headache to stomach upset to muscle aches - loss of appetite and shortness of breath.

Read more: The five stages of grief: How to cope when someone dies

Nadiya Hussain recently experienced a bereavement in her family, pictured here in London, January 2020. (Getty Images)
Nadiya Hussain recently experienced a bereavement in her family, pictured here in London, January 2020. (Getty Images)

Grief is an agonising but necessary process, to help the bereaved come to terms with the loss, and begin, eventually, to heal.

Despite being necessary for healing, there are some things you can do to help you to cope with the grieving process, including, as Hussain found, turning to a hobby or passion such as cooking.

Watch: Prince William gave Dame Deborah James' children 'powerful advice' on grief

According to Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist and author of The Grief Collective, cooking and baking can help ease grief partly because it offers us the opportunity to truly absorb ourselves in the moment.

"It’s a bit like breathing in that we can only ever bake in the present, i.e. right now," she explains. "Going on to create and transform things from basic ingredients to something nourishing and sometimes comforting can give sufferers a sense of achievement."

Read more: How to cope with grief

Cooking can help some people cope with the feelings of grief. (Getty Images)
Cooking can help some people cope with the feelings of grief. (Getty Images)

As well as providing a chance to be in the moment, taking up a hobby such as cooking can also offer some welcome distraction from grief, which can sometimes feel overwhelming.

"Whilst as a mental health professional I tell people that we need to be able to sit with our distress without needing to distract ourselves we have to be able to get there when we are ready," explains Dr Trent.

"During the grieving process it can absolutely be helpful to distract ourselves in an activity such as baking where we can use all of our senses to truly ground ourselves in the moment."

Cooking or baking can can also offer an opportunity to feel joy, during a time when it can be lacking.

"It might also allow a chance to reminisce about earlier times with the person you have lost and to help you learn that you do deserve to and are capable of enjoyment both now and in the future too," Dr Trent adds.

Read more: Keeley Hawes reveals why she opened up about her depression

According to therapist Carole Ann Rice, from Real Coaching Co, cooking can also be a meditative practice.

"There is comfort in chopping, whisking, and creating delightful food for family and friends," she says.

It can also bring people and families together during difficult times.

"Good food around the table unites and comforts people, it is a solace and a simple joy that brings a sense of order amid dark times," Rice continues.

"The smell of cakes baking, or a stew cooking sends an unconscious signal that all will be well, and that life goes on and things will get better."

And it isn't just cooking or baking that can help ease the feelings associated with grief, other hobbies or creative activities can work just as well.

"After the death of my own father I decided now was the time to try my hand at making soap," Dr Trent adds. "It was nice to follow instructions and produce something tangible, which had a use."

Grief support

Visit The Grief Trust to find help near you.

For more information about how counselling can help with bereavement, visit the British Association for Counselling and Therapy. You can find a therapist here.

For Nationwide bereavement support visit Cruse cruse.org.uk or Tel 0808 808 1677

Additional reporting PA.