Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What’s For Dinner?

At meals, I always try to give a choice: “Beef bullion or clam chowder?”

Clam chowder is an old favorite. My mother nods enthusiastically at the idea. She used to like it, a lot.

Bea is still smiling when I return from the kitchen. The first spoonful goes down okay – not too hot, not too cold. She has more trouble with the second. Her eyes open wide to indicate uncertainty. These days Bea approaches food with circumspection, like a mail order bride on the prairie, confronted by a new husband.

With a little cough meant to demonstrate difficulty in swallowing, she croaks, “Too thick!”

The third spoonful makes her choke.

I explain how flavors we appreciated in youth no longer seem to reach mature taste buds, worn out from overuse at almost 97. Nothing works forever, after all.

Bea is busy moving her tongue from one side of her mouth to the other, as if searching for something. It is not clear whether my message is getting through. Then she hands me a tiny piece of clam. I glance down and realize how many more there must be in the cup.

“Can’t take the clams out of the clam chowder,” I declare glibly. “Wouldn’t taste the same.”

A second clam does it. Bea painstakingly peels the tiny thing off her tongue.

I try avocado. Perhaps the thin slices will inspire memories of dinner with my dad for whom she would delicately slice avocado into salad every night? Bea accepts the avocado, then shakes her head, as if the offering were, in fact, unripe mango. Is this a nasty trick I decided to play now that old age prevents her presence in the kitchen? She glares up at me. Her eyes shout, “Traitor!”

“You used to like avocado,” I say, contrite that this former pleasure has disappeared with the person she used to be.

Applesauce is not something she likes, but it is easy to swallow. (Think, baby food.) Two spoonfuls go down. Bea is making a face. I know there is no use trying for a third.

Finally, I offer chocolate ice cream. She consumes the whole bowl. Now here is a food my mother appreciates, a relatively new discovery for her taste buds, a treat she served my dad over the course of their 56 years together, refusing to have any dessert herself so she could live – Hah! I almost said forever – longer ….


Blogger Karyn said...

When my grandmother was in Bea's position, I had to scramble to come up with creative ways to get her to eat. I got her to tell me stories about her childhood, her sainted mother and her culinary skills, and watched her face for clues about what she liked. I made homemade applesauce endlessly because she would eat it, and bread pudding, recipes for which I pulled offline in search of the one which most closely matched her memories. I baked pumpkin pies in August, I drove out at odd hours for coffee milkshakes - whatever it took, and shared the same wry observation you have made here. She went years without dessert; and for what?

That saying, "Life is uncertain, eat dessert first", makes more sense all the time.

11:20 AM  
Blogger joared said...

Some of the issues and more that you have written about in coping with the challenges your mother sometimes presents are addressed in a very practical manner with more information at:

I have no association with the individual who has made his professional knowledge available at this web site, but I do recommend his book. I was very impressed with an all day educational seminar he presented which I attended.

I merely pass along this information for whatever value it may or may not have for you.

11:59 PM  
Blogger joared said...

I should have added, as I interpret the author, the issues you face in getting your mother to eat may have little to do with what she use to like in relationship to her husband, or earlier years likes and dislikes.

The issue is likely much simpler. She may have taste buds now for only sweet and bitter, for which he offers a solution, along with simpler solutions for many other issues we sometimes make too complex in our well-intended perceptions of how to best care for our loved one.

A different way of thinking is required, which may, in fact, make the caregivers life much less difficult.

12:16 AM  

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