Eating, Chewing, Swallowing.

The last few times I’ve visited Dad have been during lunchtime, something I usually try to avoid as I know the staff have six people to feed and I don’t want to get in their way. I prefer to come in the afternoons because Dad is not cranky from waking up, and I can skip lunch. Unfortunately, this means he is drowsy or asleep from eating, but you can’t have everything, and, the last few months he has been more alert at this time so I can interact with him.

One particular visit, when I came in to the house, all of the residents were seated and waiting for their meal. One of the caregivers was kind enough to pull a chair over for me next to Dad and I sat down and tried to get Dad’s attention. I think he was still a little sleepy or cranky, though. I watched as the caregivers set down full plates in front of everyone and began to help them eat. I watched one caregiver feed Dad his sandwich bite by bite, encouraging him as he chewed. I thought about eating and what a basic skill it is and how sad it is to see it lost.

Apparently, Dad is still able at times to feed himself, to lift the fork up to his mouth and take a bite. However, he rarely seems to want to do it. It isn’t clear whether the skill comes back to him periodically or he is just being stubborn by refusing to do it. It amuses me to think that he is sitting in his chair, refusing to participate with the enemy – those people who keep making him do things he doesn’t want to do. Dad’s little show of rebellion. Whatever is going on in Dad’s head, the staff are gentle and patient, and happy to feed him bite by bite.

Dad used to be the slowest eater on the planet. He could make an average meal last for hours, chewing each bite methodically and thoroughly. Often, to be courteous, I would sit at the table with him to keep him company as he finished his dinner. It became a problem in the Assisted Living Facility because the aides would take away his food before he was finished, something that really upset me when I found out about it. I was interested to see how quickly he was eating now, although that might have been because the aide was feeding him bites pretty regularly.

He does seem to still like his food, which makes me happy since it is one of the few pleasures left to him. It is why I bring him Christmas cookies and zucchini bread, in an effort to give him pleasure and maybe connect him to something happy from the past. I dread the day that he no longer wants to chew and swallow – or is no longer able to – which will mean we have moved into the final stages of his life. Until then, I may occasionally show up at lunch time to watch him eat and enjoy on some level what he is eating, even though he no longer seems to want to feed himself.

 

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