When babies are born and we connect, the focus of survival and bonding occurs with nursing. Babies are designed to seek and use food for astounding growth. Enormous satisfaction occurs with the nurturance of food – both giving and receiving. We celebrate occasions, soothe tension, socialize and honor family time with food.
I have learned that we equate feeding with caring and loving.
When bodies are dying, food is not important nor utilized well. Systems are shutting down, appetite is lost or diminished. Some diseases, treatment side effects, and medicines cause nausea and sensitivities to smells. Weight loss is to be expected and facilitates the natural processes of dying. Weakness and dehydration occur in rhythm. Cessation is the goal instead of survival and growth.
A terrible dilemma can occur. I have seen frantic efforts by caregivers to find the right food that will comfort or at least stay down. Feelings of helplessness and failure arise when the intent is to show love and create comfort. The food in fact creates distress and pain. Discomfort in the form of feeding tubes, choking, obstructions, and strained relationships can result. Somehow to stop feeding acknowledges death and symbolizes the inevitability of loss.
A dear friend taught me how complicated food can become. She showed her love to others, myself included, with food. It is how she grew friendships and celebrated life. So when diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the ravages of treatment destroyed her gut in the consequences of obstruction, it was devastating. She insisted on every effort to be fed, including TPN, and endured brutal suffering with infections, hospitalizations and unintended consequences. She pushed her health care providers in honoring her wishes into the realm of cruel futility as the cancer was fed and her pain increased. Hospice let her down. She died 4 hours after her last feeding, content with her choices… and I felt loyal in staying present.
When I die I want to love and be loved without food being the focus. I want my feeding to be for the soul – maybe tastes, surely touch. I want my spirit to grow as my body diminishes. I don’t want tubes or nausea. I want to be in sync with my body.