Easing grief through food

04/08/2014 1:12 PM

04/08/2014 1:12 PM

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like Michael Campbell. In fact, I’m not sure there is

anyone like him.

Campbell is a grief specialist at Crossroads Hospice, which has locations in Kansas City and Lenexa. That alone qualifies him for recognition in my book as hospices emits a special kind of pain, sadness and suffering all its own.

Having had a mother-in-law spend the last few months of her life in hospice care, I can say with certainty that a hospice grief specialist is not a job I would aspire to nor excel at. Campbell has been doing hospice work — first as a chaplain then as a counselor — for a long time. Commendable to say the least.

Late last year, he married his passion with his profession in the name of healthier living

and

grief counseling. Through Crossroads’ foundation, Campbell started teaching a series of cooking classes for men called “Testosterone in the Kitchen,”

“Men in particular have a difficult time opening up and reaching out for help,” Campbell said. “So, one of my co-workers and I did some brainstorming and came up with the idea of these classes aimed at men who’ve suffered a loss.

“We prepare a meal together and I teach them how to eat and shop healthier, cook for themselves and just enjoy a better quality of life. I don’t set out to use the class as a counseling session, but it’s such a comfortable environment that it naturally happens.”

Cooking isn’t the main point, Campbell said, but it’s a means to an end, a way to help these grieving individuals get some relief. As for his love of cooking, Campbell said it goes back to his childhood.

“I remember being nine or 10 and in the kitchen learning to cook,” Campbell said. “I was the oldest of four kids, and both of my parent’s worked, so I did a lot of cooking growing up.”

His younger sister developed diabetes, so she needed a special diet that he often took care of, Campbell said.

Things went very wrong for Campbell’s sister in her 20s. He said she cheated on her diet and ate the wrong things all the time. As a result, she died when she was just 29.

“One of her dying wishes was for me to care for people in hospice,” he said.

And so he has, for nearly 30 years. In addition to caring for folks watching their loved ones ebb away, Campbell carried the memory of his own loss, his sister, a woman who would have lived longer had she eaten healthier and taken better care of herself.

“Yeah, that’s always in my mind and it was definitely a motivating factor being these classes,” he said. “They call me the healthy guy around here. I’ve lost 60 pounds in the last year. I eat healthy. I want to use that to help others.”

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.

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