Monday, October 3, 2011

Feuding in the Grocery Aisle

Mother loves the movies. She used to follow Siskel and Ebert’s thumbs-up and down into theaters, seeing each film and endorsed performance. Now I take her to see movies as a special outing, and recently, I purchased small popcorns for each of us. Her eyes brightened, and she wondered aloud how much time had passed since she’d eaten popcorn. She ate every buttery, salty kernel. Thirty days later, I took Mom to another movie, offering to buy popcorn for her. She asked me what it was and then told me she never liked popcorn. This has become her pattern. If she no longer remembers a food or drink, she refuses to try it, declaring that she never ate or drank that item in all her days.

Perhaps this is why Mother has lost weight in the past month. Perhaps she thwarts the best efforts of her caregivers who have not known her long and try not to quarrel with her. They just believe her when she says, “I don’t like that” or “I won’t eat it.”

She tried this tactic with me when I took her with me to the grocery store. At the celery, as I tried to pick a stalk, she told me she doesn’t need celery. I countered that foods with moisture and fiber are great choices for her because she has become more sedentary. She shook her head, as toddlers do, and declared that she would not eat the celery if I bought it.

She tried the same with lettuce, apples, cabbage, and avocadoes. I said, too sharply, that I had no intention of arguing about every item up and down the aisles of the store. I asserted again that she needs fruits, vegetables, and water, lots of water. She changed tactics then, declaring that she will never eat all of the supplies before they rot. I told her that cereals and canned goods, full of preservatives good and bad, will endure into the next millennium. She squinted her eyes at me. Widows of her generation believe they have a moral duty to consume everything they buy, to work leftovers into subsequent meals, and freeze the smallest bits that no one consumes for soups and stews. Nothing should go to the waste bin.

Later, Mother voiced her fears that she cannot afford such luxury—so many foods. She can, but one of her worst fears is that she’ll run out of money. She’s asked me what will happen then. I have promised her we’ll cross that bridge together when and if that time comes, that she will never want, but the future is as blank and terrifying for her as her lost past. Alzheimer’s may take much from its sufferers, but it does not take fear.

Mother’s last argument was that she has no appetite. This, I believe. Still, whatever I prepare for her—large meals and small—she consumes. She enjoys the food and has room in her tummy for it all. She just can no longer remember what she likes, what she should eat, or how to prepare it. Everything, especially a grocery store with all its choices, its length, depth and width, is overwhelming and confusing. Mother just shuts down, and in doing so, she risks her well-being more than she understands. She wants to live in her own home for as long as possible, and we want that for her. We have caregivers there daily to prolong her days in her own home, but I know that if she grows weak and sick, caregivers may not be enough. And so I fight with her while shopping for food. I simply want the best for her for the longest stretch of time allowed.