Nourishment At The Tail End Of Life
I recently moved my ailing mom into my bedroom suite and created a little bed-sit for myself in the connecting sun room. We both love our new nests, which are bright with southern light and lively with bird call and wind song. Very quickly, Mom’s situation changed yet again and she gratefully accepted the shift to a hospital bed that lifts her head for her without effort. It boasts a rhythmically swooshing mattress that fascinates my cat, Sophie, who spends a lot of time dozing with Mom, during as she rides the gentle waves.
Mom no longer eats more than a few mouthfuls, yet her pleasure in food in undiminished. Research shows that the first bite of anything is the most satisfying, and she seems to be getting maximum enjoyment from minimal input. Even when food is no longer really about nourishing the body, it can still nurture the person, and Mom still takes delight in her favorite comfort foods.
Offering Comfort With Every Bite
When the unwell are not able to eat much or often, every bite counts. Once restrictive diets no longer apply, all that matters is whether a given food is pleasurable or soothing. Happily, this often means offering small meals based on whole foods. Mom’s favorite lunch these days is a deviled egg, the yolk mashed with mayo and salt. It’s messy indeed, but she beams when a plump egg half is tucked into her hand. She also loves mashed potatoes, fresh apple sauce, popcorn, and chocolate ice cream bars, which are now a meal in themselves.
Since she can’t see much anymore, half the fun lies in explaining what she’ll be eating, so her imagination supplies all the savor that her tired tastebuds no longer sense. When chemo or other strong medications reduce the ability to taste food, appetites can retreat fast. To enhance the flavor of savory food, sprinkle a little sea salt or nutritional yeast on top. For sweet or savory liquids, add fresh lemon or lime juice. If sweetness is tolerated best, stir some maple syrup into anything at all.
Small Snacks And Soothers
These tiny not-quite-meals make for blissful mealtimes, and even a few bites can be utterly satisfying. End of life eating may be more about habit and socializing than nourishment in the traditional sense, so try anything that seems tempting and don’t worry about ‘balanced meals’ or what is supposed to be eaten when!
Fragrant and delicious, this childhood favorite is often a successful appetite tempter.
1 slice whole grain bread
2-3 teaspoons unsalted butter (soft)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
Lightly toast bread. Cream remaining ingredients, spread generously on bread and lightly toast again until bubbly and golden. Cut in quarters and serve. Serves 1-2.
Warm Apple Sauce
Comforting to a sore throat or an unhappy tummy.
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon or coriander
1 tablespoon Grade B maple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl and warm gently in the microwave (start at 30 seconds). Serve warm. Serves 1-2.
Excellent for reducing nausea.
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
2-3 teaspoons maple syrup or honey
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, remove from heat, add remaining ingredients, cover pan and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and serve plain or with honey (if liked). Makes 1 cup.
Fragrant, calming, and lovely at bedtime.
1 tablespoon chamomile flowers
or 2 chamomile tea bags
3-5 green cardamom pods
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, remove from heat, add remaining ingredients, cover pan and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and serve plain or with honey (if liked). Makes 2 cups.
For the lactose intolerant, make this comforting treat with rice, soy, almond, hazelnut, or oatmeal milk. If you choose vanilla flavored versions of these milk alternatives, just add a few grains of nutmeg, cinnamon, or cardamom.
4+ ounces milk (nonfat works fine)
1-2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup
few drops vanilla or almond extract
few grains freshly grated nutmeg
Combine ingredients in a mug and heat in the microwave until hot (1-2 minutes). To make in a saucepan, combine milk and sweetener over medium low heat until hot (3-4 minutes). Stir in flavoring(s) and serve. Serves 1.
Italian Hot Chocolate
Italians love the combination of chocolate and hazelnuts, which they call ‘gianduia.’ Make your own in minutes with plain or vanilla flavored hazelnut milk.
1 tablespoon water
1-2 teaspoons dark cocoa powder
1-3 teaspoons honey OR sugar
1 cup hazelnut milk
Combine water, cocoa powder, and sweetener in a mug and heat in the microwave until hot (about 30 seconds). Stir well, add hazelnut milk and heat again until hot (1-2 minutes). To make in a saucepan, combine water, cocoa powder and sweetener over medium low heat until hot (1 minute). Stir in milk, heat through and serve. Serves 1.
Restless Night Blues Beaters
When you can’t sleep, nights can seem endless. Here are some suggestions from Harmony Hill Cancer Retreat participants:
Make toast and jam and read Victorian poetry.
Say a ‘blessing alphabet’, working from A-Z with as many examples for each letter as you can find.
A hot bath with lavender oil.
Hot cinnamon toast and chamomile tea!
Take a 3 A.M. mini-vacation with soothing music, a foot rub, or a gentle face massage with scented lotion.
Sing all your favorite hymns or songs.
Read a Russian novel (it will put you out in minutes).
Other reading suggestions include: “Anything by Jane Austen.”
“War and Peace–it’s SO DULL!” “I swear by Shogun–the best part is, it doesn’t matter where you start or stop!