Actor, Mom, Writer, Artist, Chef's wife and now a young widow, Tembi Locke shares her passionate love affair with her husband and the heart-rending diagnosis that taught her how grief can "transform" and resilience "emerge!" Her creation, "The Kitchen Widow" is a modern take on the age-old kitchen table conversation - an inspirational online platform dedicated to raising awareness about how we can support each other through times of illness and grief. Tembi reminds us to reclaim the lost art of comforting the soul. Using the tools Tembi learned at the side of a chef, she chops, tastes and transforms the raw ingredients of loss and gratitude into something generous and sustaining.
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At 31, Tembi Locke had two major roles. On-screen, she worked as a TV actor and, off-screen, she was wife to a brilliant, Sicilian-born chef, Saro. It was an ideal life for the girl who had always dreamed of a life in the arts and who begged the last bite at the end of a delicious meal. In the restaurant business, a chef's wife is known as a "kitchen widow" because their partners are lost to the demands of the restaurant business. When Saro wasn't engaged in high-volume, time sensitive cooking, they filled their Los Angeles home with the flavors and aromas of his native Sicily. An impromptu dinner party often followed. They had carved out a life suited to feed both our creative souls.
Yet the paths life puts before us are often marked with unexpected turns. Without any warning, Saro was diagnosed with a rare, life threatening bone cancer, leiomyosarcoma. The floor fell out from underneath them and a new life rose up not necessarily one they had chosen. His career as a professional chef was over in a flash and for Tembi, the bright lights of Hollywood went momentarily into soft focus. What became immediately clear was the realization that she was about to help the human being she loved most in the world fight the battle of his life. In the course of a single afternoon, Tembi took on a role familiar to millions of Americans, a primary caregiver.
They did what many people do when cancer hits, put your noses down and prepared to fight the good fight. Initially, Tembi thought they could merely will themselves back into their old life with diet, meditation, love, and laughter. If they did all the "right" things, they'd find their way into a lifetime of tomorrows. Cancer would be a part of their narrative, but it wouldn't define it.
Tembi was partially right. Love and laughter are essential ingredients to a life under assault. Eating strategically makes significant differences. With grace, luck, dedicated doctors, brilliant nurses and practitioners, numerous clinical trials, personal and emotional tenacity, her husband defied the odds. In the end, their "lifetime" lasted ten miraculous years. Looking back, they had that time to learn about deep, soulful living in times of crisis.
People often ask her how she did it. They are curious about the perspective of the person closest to the patient - the wife and caregiver. How exactly did she manage being sole income earner, mother, patient advocate, sometimes nurse, and household manager. How did she spend nights at a hospital bedside and days on-set? She had many answers to those questions. However, the ONE answer she talks about on the platform is that the journey was made bearable by the love and support of those who rallied around them. A village of people appeared along the path with a helping hand - family, friends, and even strangers. They understood that supporting the caregiver is sometimes the best way you can support the patient.
Long-term caregiving means to witness, assist and love someone through a difficult journey. To do that Tembi had to learn how to build a network of friends and family who could go the distance. She had to learn how to ask those people for help, to be honest about her own fears, vulnerability, burnout and even resentment. (Yes, caregivers have all that.) Often long-term caregiving ends in loss. Grief doesn't move in a straight line. Each person's grief journey will be unique to their life experience, personality and relationship to the person who has passed away. Saro passed away before she learned how to make a perfect risotto, before they could celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary, before their daughter could make him tiramisu. But not before they got a chance to say what they wanted to say to each other. Not before Saro made Tembi promise to continue to live fully and openly, when she felt ready.
Today, Tembi is a widow and a mother to a daughter who is a gregarious, wise, funny, soulful human being with tremendous compassion. She serves on the Advisory Council of the Institute for Human Caring, alongside their executive director Dr. Ira Byock. She is also on the Board of Directors of Soaring Spirits Foundation. They work with widowed people around the world to offer online and in-person programs to ensure that no one need grieve alone.
The chef's widow is moving forward in the role of kitchen widow with a mission to give back, one flavor at a time.