My mother died this past winter of a wasting disease that left her mind healthy and her body useless. At the end, as she lost control of her limbs and her guts and her speech, we were helpless to offer any comfort. In our family, food had always been the treat, the gift, the fun, the surprise, the best part of a day, and Mom had finally lost all pleasure in it.

And that reality smacked us like a hard punch. Mom loved to eat. She was neither a gourmand nor a glutton, but she ate breakfast thinking about what she might have at lunch. She loved everything from salted caramels to pepperoni sticks. Without shame, she admitted that the highlight of her weekly grocery shopping was her fast-food lunch–a coney dog at A&W or a junior bacon cheeseburger at Wendy’s (with another, sans the bacon, wrapped up later for the dog). But she prized invitations to glitzy restaurants and agonized over which tantalizing dishes to order. Best, though, was when we all sat down together, at her table or ours. Though she would say her children were the better cooks–two out of the three of us landed in the food business–she had first shown us the way, and it never really mattered who cooked, because it was nearly always delicious. Mom could eat most of us under the table, and, yes, she might have carried a few extra pounds, but never as many as you might have expected by watching her eat. The enviable secret of where all those calories went slipped away with her.

I am my mother’s daughter, if slightly less obsessed. It is often hard to eat well if you don’t cook, so because I like to eat I cook a lot. This winter, though, I found myself much less interested in cooking and eating; when I shopped, I’d spot some new find Mom would have been interested in, reach for it, and stop, brought up sharply by the renewed realization she was gone. I wanted something comforting to eat, but I had no energy, no will to make it happen.

And that’s funny, because when my father died a few years ago, also of a strange and difficult disease, none of us lost our appetite–not Mom, not me, not my siblings. But Dad had always been the slightly odd one in the group, never as willing to try the peculiar tidbit or venture too far afield at restaurants, preferring to stay home and have Mom cook something familiar. When he died, we were released from restraint; when Mom died, we lost our potential partner in discovery.

But spring has arrived, and whether it’s the lighter sky, warmer air, or greener landscape, I’m feeling not less sad, but maybe more hungry. It’s hard to resist the grassy taste of asparagus and the bracing crunch of a radish. And, as Mom would, I’m looking forward to scooping up my first forkful of garden spinach, so new and fresh I’ll taste the chlorophyll and the hint of iron, echoed in the red juices of a grilled ribeye. I’ll savor it mindfully, for both of us.