So, my mom is coming home from her most recent jaunt to a nursing home with end-stage dementia. Forgive me for the word “jaunt”, because it is anything but. Saying that, I prefer to think of it as a capricious adventure for her: New things! People to wave to! Interesting roommates (that she talks shit about all the time in German, which is wrong, yet hilarious)!
For me, it’s supposed to be a reprieve of sorts. But no, ever the dutiful daughter, I made my way to go see her every day as I am her sole, tenuous touchstone to reality at this point. It’s better for her, says everyone with degrees, and I do not disagree with them nor with their degrees. If I skip the odd day, she is sullen, silent, vaguely bitchy when I finally do make my appearance.
She sleeps a lot now. English is a word salad, German goes a bit better. She has forgotten her French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish and Irish. Continents and countries and conversations and comrades, friends, lovers, family have all retreated to the dark spaces; clogged out by the proteins in her brain.
Dunno. Perhaps she knows her people, places and things, somewhere. A lifetime of adventure spanning World War II Germany, to Brazil, to the United States. There are things I would like to think she has lost, however. My father was a motherfucker. My sister’s death changed her profoundly.
Never on the outside, though. If you were to build a statue of the proverbial, stoic East German battle axe? My mother and her mother would give Angela Merkel a run for her money.
But this is not about that. Not really. This is about food, and the textures of… things. Kinda sorta. With late stage dementia comes dysphagia and incontinence. “Dysphagia” is, in layman’s terms, trouble swallowing, and if you do not know what “incontinence” is? I ain’t got nothin’ for you.
In preparing for her return home, I have purchased three-part plates– you know, like how those Swanson TV dinners used to be separated, extra spoons, extra bullets for my food processor, wee-wee pads, diapers, every sort of salve and cleaning agent I can get my grubby little hands on (or liberate from a hospital or nursing home), gloves, face masks. You name it? I either have it, or it’s on my Amazon wishlist.
All of mom’s food must be pureed now. I sadly gave up all of her chewy granola bars (she loved them so much!) to the six-year old two units down from me. He loves them, though. There’s that.
Chicken? Pureed. Pasta? Same. Fruit? Yep. Every single fucking thing. And goddamnit! It’s so disheartening! Food, eating is amazing, but in this form it’s all bullshit. I completely understand when my mom isn’t feeling it. The hospital, at least, made some attempt to conceal the treachery of the process. At breakfast, she would get a waffle with maple syrup– pureed, of course– but they had a form that they plopped over the mush that made it at least vaguely waffle-shaped. Same with carrots. Four vaguely carrot-shaped rows of blergh. Mom was slightly fooled, but…
I’m gonna digress for a moment and take you back to 1997, Brazil. My father was at death’s door, and I went down to Ubatuba to, uh, take care of all the legalities when he passed. But he didn’t, so I was basically in a hostage situation for a month.
He also had dysphagia and his nurses blended all of his meals. Gamely, and not accustomed to being waited on hand and foot, I asked for the same thing my father was having for dinner on my first night there. They looked at me like I was crazy– to be fair, a correct assessment– and said OK. I was handed a greenish-brown (are you picking up what I’m putting down?) glass of hot, viscous liquid. Just like my dear ol’ dad.
I took a sip. It wasn’t horrible tasting, but the texture! Gag. Spluttering, I asked the nurses what was in it. Steak, cabbage, green beans and beef stock.
“My dad is drinking a meatshake?! I’m drinking a meatshake?! What. The. Fuck.”
They didn’t speak any English, so they didn’t understand the words. They did, however, understand my revulsion and ordered pizza. Then we played cards and got really stoned, but that is a different story.
Back to Mom.
I have to encourage her to eat by having bites of her food. It’s in her innate nature, you see, to make sure that her remaining daughter is well-fed. Or maybe she just knows that she’s being offered food the consistency of baby poop and she wants me to suffer with her. Somehow, this is the better option.
At the end of all things, I can only be thankful that she does not eat red meat. I may dry heave, eyes watering, trying to hold down the horrible texture of puree. I will smile through my grimace and say, “This is delicious, mama! You should have another bite.”
But I will never, ever drink another meatshake.