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too sweet...too salty

when the table turns

by Judy
March  31, 2014

Some days it’s just harder…lately my mom who had been such a voracious eater all her life, thoroughly enjoying food, has grown more and more disinterested. It has happened gradually since she had a stroke. Since then her smelling and tasting senses have diminished considerably and she hardly opens her eyes to see what she is eating. All this combined with not having much appetite – she doesn’t move a lot – has led to an increased lack of interest. My mother has always loved bread (she used to say it was her nemesis) and especially bagels and now even her beloved bagels are sometimes – not always – difficult to consume. In general eating has become somewhat of a chore that she half-heartedly does. So for the past week, it’s been an on-going question for Pat and myself, “What can we feed her? What will she eat?” We make the usual food that she always liked, and she is rejecting it. Either it’s too sweet, too salty, too sour or doesn’t have any taste at all.

I realized the other day that this is not a problem for my mom - she is fine to eat very little - but for Pat and me, it is. We have been “racking our brains” to find food to interest her. I went out the other day and bought all sorts of possibilities: ravioli, jello, waffles, crab salad…and nothing grabbed her attention.

Of course I have read that as one nears the “end,” eating often will stop. That makes sense to me. One is withdrawing more and more from this earthly plane and food, the sustenance of Life, would also lose its appeal. But right now that is not an evident conclusion with my mom. She still wants to eat when she is hungry, but not very much and with very limited choices.

Yesterday morning I thought about the few “things” that she still always likes: bananas, chocolate and cake and decided I would make her a banana chocolate chip cake/bread. Yes, I know it’s not terribly healthy, but I used a recipe with coconut oil, little sugar, coconut flakes, eggs, dark chocolate chips and lots of bananas. And I built up my mom’s interest already just by the whole baking event itself and the anticipation of the cake.

So while I was on the phone, she did have a piece of my cake and thoroughly enjoyed it. She had another piece today. She complimented me, astonished that I could bake so well. She asked me, “When did you become a baker?” She was never a baker herself. Neither am I, but every now and then I plunge in. This was the moment to do that. I also baked some apples.

As a caregiver one has to be so alert, interested and responsive to any emerging changes. It’s quite a balancing act: to reflect and respond to the changes and at the same time be respectful of my mother’s wishes and needs. I don’t want to force her to eat when she doesn’t want to. but at the same time it’s natural to want to give her nourishment and ideally enjoyment while eating. For example, now we are juicing fresh fruit and vegetables almost every day as a way to give her more nourishment easily.

Life is in constant flux. Often we are not so aware of this. Certainly living with a young child, this is very evident, but living with an aging soon to be 98 year old woman, it is also very evident. Since she had a stroke almost two years ago, her thinking has changed. She isn’t always logical or sharp like she had been. No doubt her brain was effected in ways that I will never totally know. Over the past two years, there have been on-going shifts, some at first hardly perceptible that over time make an impact. Mom’s diminishing interest in food has been progressing. At first what I noticed was how slowly she ate seemingly savoring every bite…very different than the past…but then over time the quantities have also diminished and now her relationship to food is practically nil. So be it. I realized in the midst of writing this essay, it’s not the end of the world: she will survive on less and also Pat and I will continue to find creative solutions to nourish her.

I am on this journey with my mom, for better and for worse, and no matter what, it’s a journey that forever changes and deepens me. In it, just as my mom is continually letting go – so am I. And just as my mom has to continually adapt, so do I. And thank goodness there are always these tender moments…sweet encounters that happen unexpectedly. For that and for so much more, I am immensely grateful.


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