We’ve always loved food in our family. Our portion sizes are legendary. I can out-eat Hubby no problems at all and my kids are showing the signs of taking after me. I am secretly very proud!
Mabel is a pasta fiend. She would happily eat a whole pack of Tortellini to herself – a pack that is designed to feed two adults. In fact, when she has to share she is most put out (and don’t we all know about it.)
Archie can devour steak like no one I have ever seen. His favourite place to hang out is the butcher’s – weird, perhaps, but he just loves the smell of meat.
Martha, well, she’s a sausage girl. She can leave the chips, or the beans and will try her best to leave the veg, but will always come back for more sausage. (That is not a euphemism, by the way.)
Thankfully, we have fast metabolisms. And we’re all very active, and in the main, the meals we eat are home-cooked and nutritious.
I was delighted last week to get a free dinner for two from our local Cook Kitchen – frozen meals, made like you would at home.
It was because I had been an attendee at a Harrogate Blogger Breakfast the week before organised by @HarrogateTribe. A lovely freebie given in exchange for a few social media comments or recommendations. I popped in. I showed my letter and tried not to feel embarrassed about claiming my freebie.
“So, you’re a blogger, are you?” the very nice lady asked me, as she showed me around the store.
“Yes, I suppose I am.” I felt like a fraud.
“Have you been doing it for long?”
“Well,” I replied. “The Girl About Harrogate thing is fairly recent, but I’ve been blogging about my mum’s dementia for around 3 years.”
And, that was it. We bonded there and then. Her mum died just a few weeks earlier after battling dementia for a number around ten years. She had been in her 80’s and Lovely Lady was almost apologetic about the fact her mum had had a good innings. We shared stories. She explained her mum had coped well at home for many years before going into a home. She told me the last week of her mum’s life was agony, as they effectively withdrew food and water and watched her fade away over several days.
She told me she’d begged the nurses to help, to end her mother’s suffering. But, they could do nothing but try and keep her mum comfortable. They kept her mother’s mouth wet. That was it.
Can you believe it?
I worked at a vets when I was a teenager. It was my Saturday job. I loved it. I was in the consulting room with the vet and would help hold the animal, get the inoculations ready and tidy up after each appointment ready for the next one.
The one client I remember, the one that affected me the most, was a massive, leather-clad biker who came in carrying a small box. Inside was his hamster. The vet informed him – after a thorough examination – that there was nothing that could be done and the kindest thing would be to have the little creature put to sleep.
Actually, that’s not right.
He sobbed. He sobbed his heart out over the loss of his little hamster. He stayed with his little friend as the end came and crumbled with emotion as it quietly and calmly fell into its forever sleep. His deep sadness has stayed with me for over 25 years.
It is my “vet” story. My first job story. The go-to story I tell about how unexpected life can be. The story I recount about not judging a book by its cover. About the beauty of life.
As the lovely lady from Cook was describing the hell her family went through and how she can not yet look at pictures of her mother, my mind flashed back to that man and his hamster and how bloody wrong the whole thing is.
That man’s hamster was treated with more dignity than the Cook lady’s mother was. More dignity that my mum will endure as the end draws near. More dignity than most of us can expect as illness takes hold and we endure pain and suffering while the people who love us the most in all the world watch, helpless.
It’s not right.
How can that be right?
Change is desperately needed.
I was up visiting last week with the kids. The first day we went to the home, Mum was out of bed and in the lounge. She had her eyes open and was actually smiling at us. She didn’t know us. She made no sense. But, she saw us. It was a good visit.
“She’s eaten well today,” one of the nurses told us.
The second day, was not a good visit. Mum was being tended to in her bedroom and when they had cleaned her up, she was wheeled out to see us. She was hunched over in her chair, her eyes shut tight and nothing we said (or sang) to her could entice her to open them.
The third day was different again. We walked into her room and she was having her hair dried. She giggled at us. She stared at us and then she laughed. Then she laughed some more. It was odd. It was surreal. But, at least it wasn’t as bad as the day before. It was just different.
I chatted to her. I sang to her. I asked her if she wanted to dance.
“Okay, then!” she responded. I was shocked. Was it a coincidence or had she understood me? I will never know.
As I leaned in to give her a kiss and a hug, she opened her mouth as if to try and nibble me. The kids laughed.
“She’s trying to eat you, Mummy!”
“Oi, Mother!” I joked. “There’s no need for cannibalism, is there? We only popped into say hello and have a sing song with you.”
She smiled and then opened her mouth again, her tongue searching for a spoon that was not there. The kids laughed again. Mum laughed and chatted nonsensical words as we smiled and laughed with her.
“She eats well,” the nurse who was near us commented. “Even when she’s having a bad day and we struggle to get her to wake up, she will always open her mouth for some food.”
“Damn right, Mother!” I thought. Her brain might be almost complete mush, but she still loves her food.
Perhaps it is just a reflex. An automatic reaction so when something is near her face her mouth opens and her tongue starts its exploration, ready for whatever treats are coming her way. My looming face must have triggered her eating reflex.
I must have looked tasty!
The kids found it hilarious. Even now, over a week later and they’re still reminding me of when Granny tried to eat me.
I cannot think too hard about the future and what that looks like. When the time comes and her body cannot swallow or she is unable to take a drink from a cup. That time will come, but at the moment we have to simply be thankful that her love of food is helping to sustain her.
I miss you, Mum, you bloody crazy, wonderful woman.
I have only just found your blogs and they move me to tears. My beautiful mum died 18 months ago after suffering for three years. Such a cruel disease. Like you I ask why can’t the suffering be ended for the person and the relatives who have to watch with horror as the person they love disappears. My mum didn’t recognise me, “are you a relative of mine?” I know what you are going through and my heart goes out to you all.
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Oh Lyne, I’m so sorry to hear about your mum. What a horrid disease it is. I think something has to end – end of life care is not care, it is pain and suffering for all. Thank you for reading my blog,
Much love to you and your family. My heart breaks for you x
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Food is such an important connection for a family and often a source of pleasurable memories. The memory care staff told me that Dad had a great appetite, which was some comfort to me.
I know a family who has a son with profound autism. Of all his challenges, the one that touched me the most was his aversion to food. Not just vegetables. Not “oh all he eats is chicken nuggets.” The kid doesn’t like the texture of any kind of food in his mouth. His mother makes a healthy kind of stew and they play a game at each mealtime to get him to swallow bites of it.
Oh Joy, that sounds tough. That poor family. I understand exactly what you mean about getting some small comfort from the fact that your dad still enjoys food.
We have to take comfort and humour and the good bits when we can, don’t we?
Much love xxx
Your blogs are just so moving! I began reading them having heard you sing at a local food festival and have followed you ever since! I felt so sad at your poor mum’s illness and for you seeing her decline and just missing her so much ..it made me feel so blessed to still have our mum (who was with me as we enjoyed your set sat on hay bales in the August sunshine enjoying a rhubarb cider). Sadly since then she has had a massive stroke, leaving her very disabled, dependant on care for the rest of her life and very confused at times! I too now miss my mum terribly, it’s such an odd feeling seeing the mum you know and adore but not being able to share the proud parents evenings or programmes you watched on TV as we used to! I feel cheated, heartbroken, angry yet blessed we have her still and in those lucid moments just in awe at the amazing, strong woman she is! We always knew we’d never have our parents forever but….I don’t think you’re ever ready! Life is so precious and if any of this has taught me anything, it’s that family is everything! My heart goes out to you and your lovely mum Sarah and let’s keep finding peace in those chinks we get! Incidentally, my mum too devours every plate she is given and is desperate for some crusty bread with butter and jam…Im hoping we can share some again one day when she gets home…Love to you all xx
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Oh Gaynor, I started reading your words with a smile on my face and have ended up in tears. I am so sad to hear your news. I completely understand how you feel – it is very difficult to explain to someone who has not experienced this kind of loss, the absolute and utter agony of it. The devastation of knowing your life will never be the same. And, no, I don’t think you could ever be prepared for it. I miss my mum every day. I have grown used to life without her now, so I no longer see her in strangers as I walk through M&S or feel her absence in the school assemblies, I have learned to suppress that pain. It is still there though, it just lies deeper, so when the emotion does escape, it can be overwhelming and debilitating.
I am sending you so much love and I hope you get your mum home and you’re able to resume some kind of normality. Life is cruel, but it is also amazing….we just don’t realise how lucky we are in the amazing moments and take them for granted. Only when the pain or loss starts do you realise what you had.
Love to you
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Dear Sarah. My Mum is just the same at the moment. After well over a week of being bed bound, fully assisted with eating and drinking, struggling at times to swallow but mostly asleep, I arrived on Friday to find her out of bed, dressed, hair freshly washed and sitting in a reclining chair in the lounge, smiling. I’d come to terms with the thought that she was coming to the end and now suddenly she’s bounced back again. So emotionally draining not just for me but for the staff who so lovingly care for her. Thankfully Mum seems blissfully unaware of the roller-coaster ride she is having. I so agree with you that “end of life care” needs to be carefully reconsidered to take into account the pain and suffering involved not just for the patient but the family and carers. Not all care homes are as good as those our wonderful Mums are living in and not all families are like ours. Many residents have no-one to visit them, ever. As I’ve repeatedly said to the staff at Mum’s home “you’re too good at keeping Mum alive” whether she is “living” is another question altogether. If you ever have any ideas on what might be done to get some meaningful and ethical changes made to the “end of life care” system, please let me know. Sending much love as always. Alison xxx
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I will, Alison! I am actually meeting a lady who used to work in Palliative care in a couple of weeks and I’m going to ask lots of questions I have not yet dared to ask when it comes to my mum. I will let you know what I find out!
Firstly, such a lovely photo of you, your Mum and your kids!
This post struck a real chord with me. We’re also a foodie family and among the many things I miss, in everything that we’ve lost over the last few years, is my Mum’s brilliant (& much more effortless than mine!) cooking. I often wish that I could remember the last meal I ate that Mum cooked for us but unfortunately there have been so many lasts (and firsts), that some of them have got lost – that last meal being one.
My Dad has taken over cooking duties completely and does an amazing job. Recently he has been cooking his way through the dishes of his and Mum’s marriage. Things that he can remember were staples at different points in time. Last night was a 1970s classic – mince curry with boiled eggs. I declined the invite to join them for this one! Mum’s verdict (reported by Dad this morning): ‘Not as good as my curries’. Probably very true! I’d accept the invite for one last plate of her fish coconut curry in a heartbeat…
Sending love and all good thoughts & wishes.
Mince curry with boiled eggs! Think I’d have given that one a miss as well.
My dad also took over in the kitchen and was often given scathing reviews by my mother when she was still able and still at home. You have to laugh through some of it, don’t you Hannah?
I often think about some of the lasts and wish I’d recorded them. I’ve just updated my phone and all my old messages have gone – including the last ones my mother was able to send in her confused state. I am kicking myself for not saving them somewhere.
It sounds like your dad is doing a wonderful job. You really see the strength in someone when this hits the family.
Sending love and strength your way – thank you for reading
Thank you for writing about your difficult journey. My dad has dementia and has just been admitted to hospital, now with no chance of returning to the home in which he has lived for 20+ years. Seeing him go from an extremely intelligent man to someone who doesn’t know who I am is very difficult. Your blog makes me realise that I’m not alone in these feelings. Sending my thoughts to you
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Oh Vicky, I am so sorry to hear your news. My heart goes out to you. It is heartbreaking and it is so hard to live through. My only consolation is that it does get easier with time, my mum has now been in the home for 18 months and to watch my dad struggle with the decision and his loneliness was devastating for us all. The guilt and pain has eased with time – you somehow get used to the new situation – I think it’s the only was we cope with it, to be honest.
Sending much love to you.
Keep strong and thank you for reading my blog. I am glad it is offering some comfort at this terrible time.
Beautifully written, it took me back to times I spent with my Mum before she died last year.
Thank you Sarah ❤️
Thank you for reading, Julie-Anne. I’m so sorry you lost your mum. I am both dreading the day arriving with my mum, but also wishing it was all over. I hope that makes sense?
Best wishes and much love to you and your family