Thank you all so much for sharing your stories - as I read them I am finding myself mulling over some bittersweet memories as well. My mother was an outstanding cook - despite what as an adult I now understand to be our very limited means, every night we (Mom, Dad, and some combination of my 7 older siblings and I) would sit down together to an expertly prepared and well balanced meal - some kind of meat, usually a large roast of pork or beef with gravy; a starch; two vegetables; often a green salad; and a dessert, sometimes store-bought cookies but many times homemade. I may have taken it for granted when she prepared one of the very few meals I did not care for, but I recall finding most of what she made absolutely delicious. She took great pride in her cooking, though she did not particularly enjoy having to do it, and as she got older and frailer and less able or willing to cook for herself, she often bemoaned the lack of appropriate flavor development or seasoning in restaurant meals and even some of the dishes my sisters and I prepared for her in her later years.
She passed away 18 months ago at 85, and spent her final month between hospital and nursing home on a strict low sodium diet. She felt so lousy that she had little appetite, and though the food in the hospital was better prepared than the nursing home, it was all devoid of flavor and pleasure and it was nearly impossible to get her to eat very much, even with judicious use of the salt packets we hoarded and smuggled in for her - which only made her weaker and frailer. Further, specific dietary requests made at the nursing home (for example, please no meat of any kind on Friday, for religious reasons) were completely ignored and when alternate meals requested they either did not arrive or arrived stone cold. So much about it infuriated me - it was clear she did not have much longer, so why deny her decent food? Why be so careless about her nutrition when she so desperately needed calories? It all seemed so counterintuitive to caring for the whole person.
When I think back on that last awful month, there are three food-related things that stick out in my mind as... redeeming? Not sure of the right word, but moments of pleasure that she hadn't felt for a long time. First, since it was the holidays I made a massive basket of chocolate barks, clusters, and dipped pretzels for her to give out to the staff whom she particularly liked. She loved being in a position to share something handmade with people who showed her care and kindness, which seemed to give her a bit of joy she might not otherwise have experienced during her last Christmas and made her something of a temporary rockstar with the chocoholics on staff. Second, I made her some specialchocolate bark with ingredients I knew she loved, in hopes it would entice her to snack and get some calories in her. It did the trick, at least temporarily - she truly enjoyed it and I was able to replenish her stash a few times before her appetite went downhill completely. Finally, on the last day in the nursing home before the final hospital stay - the last day she was reasonably coherent - I was visiting when her lunch was delivered and since she was nearly too weak to feed herself, I ended up feeding her the cream of mushroom soup on her tray. This must have been delivered to her by mistake, as miraculously it was both hot and tasty to her. She ate most of it - more than I had seen her eat in weeks - and it ended up being the last real meal she ate before she died a few days later. When I think about those final days I often think about how that simple bowl of soup might have been the last pleasure she enjoyed, and my being there to feed it to her might have helped her enjoy it without what, in her condition, would have been a profound exertion if she had had to feed it to herself.
Whoa. Sorry for the wall of text. Food is such powerful medicine, in all kinds of ways, isn't it?