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"food, glorious food"

by Judy
November 10, 2014

Food is such an essential part of life. It not only gives nourishment but also pleasure. It evokes fond associations connected with childhood, past experiences, our culture, and our way of breaking bread with each other…our communing together. And of course it’s an essential way mothers give to their children, a way of giving love.

Now living with my 98 year old mom, it’s natural to want to see my mom eat and be nourished. In that sense the roles have reversed and I, like a mother, want my mom to be fed and ideally enjoy the process.  

Recently we seem to be entering a new phase in this whole area. Gradually over time my mother has been eating less and less to the point where it’s becoming a concern.

I know when someone really is dying their system shuts down and they do stop eating, but that isn’t the case with my mom. She still is alive, breathing, talking, and responding. Granted she is doing less and less and no doubt doesn’t need that much food, but still it is hard to see this desire for food in her so diminished. Also, from what I gather, it’s not an uncommon situation with elders.

Over the last year there has been a progression. The portions have gotten smaller and smaller to the degree that they are truly minuscule – after only a few bites and my mother says she’s full. I kid mom that she is eating like a bird. And for some reason the whole chewing event seems to be difficult even though she has better teeth than almost anyone I know. 

Pat, her caregiver, is a saint when it comes to being able to get mom to eat. She has infinite patience. She has my mom taking small bites…tells her that there is no rush and encourages her to swallow, and not spit it out, which she often does. Pat often succeeds where others fail. And even so, there are times when my mother will simply refuse to eat any more.

Today it was discouraging as she hardly wanted to eat anything. She did in the end drink two juices, had ice cream and a few bites of French toast which she had requested. I find myself getting annoyed at times. I think, “How can this very reasonable, practical woman not realize she has to eat and eat good food? This was the woman who always fed us such nourishing food. Now she probably would be happy to just eat ice cream for lunch and dinner." But it’s not my mom’s fault. She can’t see, smell or taste very well and so she is left with texture, the taste of salt and sweetness and hardly any appetite.

Well, there is some good news.  She does enjoy veggie/fruit juices that we make almost every day and recently I got a ninja high powered smoothie maker and increased her protein drinks. Drinking in general is easier for her to do and she does love the juices although she still won’t generally drink too much. She also never fails to eat ice cream and a cookie thrown in.

And then Pat and I do keep trying different dishes that she used to like. The other day I made spaghetti, but it didn’t work. Another time I made brisket. I had never cooked a brisket and it was also the first time I cooked meat in over 35 years. It looked good and apparently tasted good, but no, mom didn’t like it. Unfortunately what my mother thinks she likes, based on the past, and what she she actually likes now are two different things. But there is also the unknown factor because what she may not like today, she might like tomorrow.

As always it is a balance – not to just give in to my  mother’s will in which she probably would stop eating altogether and on the other hand, respecting the changes that are going on and not forcing her to eat. 

One does keep trying. It seems like a natural impulse - to try, not give up, be creative. The other day I offered to make blueberry pancakes and my mom said yes. Being a terrible pancake maker, I did my best. The first one was a disaster and I threw it out. The next ones came out okay, if you didn’t have to look at them. To my delight and surprise, she liked it and ate the whole pancake. This of course made me very happy. It also makes the whole “keep on trying” worth the while. It’s the joy of a “mother” or anyone who is caring for another. The rewards are many and outweigh by far the difficulties.


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