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It's spring here and while there are buds on the trees, baby geese on the lawns - it is a time in the hospital where we seem to see a lot of people dying. I was ruminating on this and it got me thinking about the whole 'need to feed' that I've observed in family members of sick and dying patients.

I admitted a lovely lady, with two very devoted sons, the other day and after ensuring her basic needs for pain control and a proper bed in a proper ward instead of the emergency room - their thoughts went straight to making sure she was getting fed.

My husband's mother was in the palliative care ward in the cancer hospital a few years back and I was out running around getting Swiss Chalet chicken and grinding it up in the food processor so she could eat one of her favourite foods. I realize in retrospect - her enjoyment of it probably wasn't as important to me as my need to feed her!

I wonder if the need arises as part of a denial mechanism - if they can eat, they must be OK - or if it is just part of the mothering instinct? So inborn vs learned?

Any observations, thoughts, ideas?

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My uncle did the same thing when my aunt was in her last stages of breast cancer. He ran around picking up all her favorite foods and attempted to get her to eat them. They enjoyed food together. In his helplessness in the face of death I agree that it was at least a positive nourishing step that he felt he could take. I also think we have no idea how to talk to terminal loved or their grieving family and therefore fall back to the physical act of feeding as a sign of caring.

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I wonder if the need arises as part of a denial mechanism - if they can eat, they must be OK -

This may be part of it. Last year my cat died--the one in my avatar photo--from cancer. As he got sicker, he lost a lot of weight and had trouble eating. When it got to the point of him refusing even his most favorite treats--slices of smoked salmon--I knew there was nothing left to be done.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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I do this all the time, and am currently doing it for Mother's Day for a mom who's still recovering from abdominal surgery. I got a short list of what she can eat and a longer list of what she can't; on-going discussion and results over here. I can say that we're all looking forward to the meail.

As for motivation, I certainly embrace the idea that someone struggling with profound changes in routine and comfort can have the ability to enjoy something simple and pleasurable that I've made. I suspect I also appreciate the ability to do something at all in situations that prevent me from feeling just this side of useless. After all, disruptions to routine and comfort are hardly the only difficulties the sick and dying are facing, and unlike, say, Dr. Beal, I've got few non-food tools to help with those other disruptions.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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What an interesting question! Coming from an Italian-American background, preparing food for others has always been considered an expression of love and caring. I also think that being the "food provider" demonstrates the important connection between you and the loved one. When my children were younger, I always had emergency food in a baggie in my purse....cherrios, crackers...just in case. To this day I still keep a stash of granola bars in my pocket or glove compartment of the car, not for me but in case someone I love needs it. When I provide the nourishment, I demonstrate the connection I have with the person.

I also think of times when you feel helpless. Illness is certainly one of the times, but also at the time of loss...when a friend has lost a loved one. There are no words to ease the pain but a tray of lasagna left in the refrigerator is at least something you can do to help.

You ask who's need is it? Well, providing the food certainly fills a need of mine to feel connected to those I care about!

Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon, or not at all.

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i'm doing it now. favorite auntie on hospice care. i'm close to her, but not particularly close with her family. and yet, i am cooking every day, to make sure there is something comforting and home-cooked in that fridge. just feels right. may or may not be as much comfort to them as it is to me...

"Laughter is brightest where food is best."

www.chezcherie.com

Author of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook ,The I Love Trader Joe's Party Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook

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I can think of a bunch of reasons why we feel the need to cook for sick family… here are my thoughts:

Evolutionarily, if someone was not doing well, there is a good chance that it had something to do with insufficient calories. A tribe of people would be more likely to pass on their genes if, at that point, other members of the community brought them food so they might survive and procreate. I think it is partially inbred in us.

Since I am not a doctor, I cannot do anything medical to help. Since I can cook, I can relieve someone else from that burden, so they might do better with the patient.

Cooking is a zen activity for me. It might distract me from the pain I am feeling at the loss of a friend.

If I am able to pass on even a small bit of pleasure to someone in pain through food, I would do whatever I could. I am one of those people who, if told I had a week to live, I would go out and eat at every decent restaurant within range, stuff myself silly, and end at home for moms fruit stuffing, dads biscuits and gravy, sisters walnut torte and uncles cauliflower. I would hope that they all would give that to me.

Finally, in my home food really is an expression of love. It is also the celebration of anything. All dishes come with memories of some awesome picnic, or hilarious ceder. I would like to think that is a very comforting way to pass.

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Two reasons:

First, in many cultures, feeding someone is a way of expressing love. When someone is suffering, maybe even dying, it is natural to want to give them comfort and pleasure even if it is only a small amount.

Secondly, diet and health are intimately connected. Someone who eats well when dealing with illness will recover quicker than someone who picks at a spoonful or two of hospital food gunk a day and then leaves the rest because they don't like it.

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Years ago, my then-boyfriend and I were employed to care for an elderly man who was dying very slowly of a selection of things. I'm about the least nurturing person I know, and the man was a complete stranger to me, but my reflexive response, as far as preparing meals went, was to consult him carefully (tricky, frustrating, and in a sense useless, since his senile dementia was advancing rapidly) about his preferences, and take tremendous care in preparing his meals, even though he often had difficulty recognizing food as such. And I kept this up for as long as he was able to actually swallow.

I didn't do this because I felt helpless, since there was plenty to do in terms of nursing (he was catheterized, among other things, which needed a lot of attention), so I wondered whether the urge to feed others who are in very bad shape exists/persists because in some cases (going back to early humans, and groups that still have access to little medical care), it actually helps (obviously, not in the case of terminal illness).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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For me it's all the answers everyone has given and all the other reasons us food-focused folks would probably give if asked why food and cooking are so important to us. Food is a vehicle, a way of conveying, of giving something to others- be it nourishment, caring, hospitality, respect, love, comfort, celebration or commemoration. Food is sustenance in every sense and it's a constant. One of my most treasured and important memories is having Passover seder in my father's hospital room as he recovered from heart surgery, joking about the world renowned restorative powers of chicken soup, feeling a connection through the food to those who have come before and the sense that these rituals of sharing, enjoying and being sustained together will carry on regardless of what else might change.

Oh dear, now I've gone and made myself all emotional !!

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I think this also touches on a way to take care of the caregivers as well as the ones who are ailing. In the case of a death in the family the ones left behind are often too busy, distracted, grieving to nourish and care for themselves. However, when you get into a situation like a visitation or a wake where friends and neighbors are bringing over food and everyone is sharing it, I think you get a chance to comfort the person in a less constrictive formal setting and also the bereaved is often pressed to EAT EAT and take care of themselves. Plus in the days after when the visitors have dispersed it is much easier to follow the routine of eating if there is food readily available.

I think that just as food can connect us in laughter, in business and in building relationships it also connects us to help those who are sick or grieving.

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I dont know what causes it, but I thank the stars for it.

During my husband's illness, The 7 lovely people who felt the need to feed us made the difference between high stress and me collapsing.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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My mother passed away recently, and one of the things that make me feel a little better, is that I got to cook one of her last dinners. I fried pork chops and had fresh asparagus- two of her favorites. I can't say how glad I am that I didn't 'experiment' with her on something I've wanted to try. I just made something so traditional and so reminiscent of her cooking style when we were growing up.

To me, its a combo effect, as a foodcentric person of course I'm going to gravitate toward the food/meal memories, but also as has been stated its something we can do as we feel a certain helplessness and at the same time hoping the person will gain, if not nourishment, then enjoyment of a dish/meal.

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

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Nourishment and health are basic needs, and I think a lot of the motivation comes from wanting to provide them. Usually, if we’re free to cook at times like this, then the health needs are taken care of as well as they can be.

But I think there is another effect going on here. When my wife was recovering from childbirth, her parents were here to help out, and I felt able to let loose in the kitchen. I was preparing more elaborate-than-normal meals for all, and in retrospect it was as least as soothing for me as it was for my wife. For me, it gave me a sense of control back as we were thrown into the chaos of our first kid.

So the cooking/feeding part brings some sense of control back to the provider when they may not be feeling much elsewhere in the situation.

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My mother's last few months were a pretty wretched experience. For us all, of course, but particularly for her. I'm sure there was some need in me to feed her as best I could for my own sake. But I know that those times when I was holding her close, and feeding her her favorite foods, albeit mashed beyond recognition, eased her pain. I would have done anything I could to make that difficult time better for her. Whether it helped me in some manner or not.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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When my brother was in his hospital stages, he refused to eat hospital food. Since he'd already lost something like 80 lbs, it became my mission to feed him. At least he'd eat anything I'd bring him, the more fattening the better. At that point, it was all I could do for him. Cook. I'd haul food from one end of the city to the other and warm it up in the ward micowave. When my mom was hospitalized 6 months after his death, it wasn't the same. I wanted to feed her, but she hadn't been able to eat properly for months, so that option was out. I felt bereft, because feeding people I love is what I do. I think it can be both Kerry.

Our need to show our love to those who are ill by feeding them and our loved ones response to trying to eat what we make because they love us and appreciate the effort.

I don't think there is anything more powerful on earth than feeding the ones we love.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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When they stop eating, they are dying. So a great deal of it is for us, I think: if we see you eat, it means you won't leave us...yet. But on the other side of it, when my mother was dying of pancreatic cancer, she wanted her favorite things; some, like rhubarb pie, were things I knew she loved; others, like brisket sandwiches, were surprises to me (we never had them at home). I had to ask her to describe them to me, and then look up recipes to figure out how to make them just right--juicy and shredded, on little soft rolls.I cooked and cooked for her. And then, she stopped eating.

I now make brisket sandwiches for myslef.

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