Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eating With a Fork or Not?

He is new, only has been at the community for a few days. And it has not been easy for him to get used to the place. Every time we meet, George's got tears, silent tears. A grown man, with a long, good life behind him, crying for his family, and the other home he just left. He's trying to make sense of his new environment. Friendly faces, many, take turn trying to make him feel better, and telling him that he is much loved, and that he will be ok. George keeps on crying. 

Finally, he calms down, and agrees to sit down for dinner. A plate of pasta is placed in front of him, and George starts eating, with his hands. Pieces of beef escape down onto his bib, and then the floor. I grab a fork and ask if he would like me to help? George does not seem to hear, and continues. His hands are dripping with sauce. Residents at the next table are giving us looks. Meanwhile, my brain is spinning out thoughts. About my mother-in-law telling me the story of her neighbor who had ended up eating like an animal. About my daughter when she first learned how to eat on her own, and how she used her hands, just like George. I did not mind the messiness then, I even took pictures to capture the memory. Thoughts about expectations of how we are supposed to behave as adults. Then wondering what does George need most, at this moment? To eat on his own still, with his bare hands? Or to be assisted, having someone else guide food into his mouth? Neither a perfect solution.

Alzheimer's is not fun (many of the times). It's not pretty. And it rips one's heart open. It also makes us question some of our most basic assumptions of how life is to be lived. What is more important? To preserve George's remaining control over his eating experience? or to keep things neat, and 'civilized'? What does it mean to be civilized, anyway? The fork is a product of our Western culture, a late addition in our evolution, and a rather contrived tool that is being shunned by over a billion people.

The mind, stripped away from its superficial layers, shows itself naked, at last. Crying heart and hands made for grabbing food . . .

No wonder, I felt so alive, sitting next to George, fork laid down to rest.


  1. Yes, Marguerite, this story ripped my heart open, but thank you so much for telling it. It gave me two feelings at the same time - sadness and peace.

  2. Your soul is very beautiful. I am so glad that his fork was at rest if it gave him a moment of peace.

  3. Thank you David, thank you Natalie for partaking in this moment of peace (and sadness) with George.

  4. Hi Marguerite, thanks for sharing with us this piece of story. It is so well written and just show how vunerable and helpless everyone of us are when illness like this creep upon us.

    Once when I was taking a evening walk with my 1 year old son on his pram. A elderly who has lost her mobility (due to old age or sickness) was wheeled by a helper walk passed us. A thought quickly flashes in my mind. I see a life cycle here. They are both on wheels, but one at a start and the other at the end....

    It just reminded me again that life is a cycle, no matter who you are, like it or not.

  5. Yes, our problem is that we tend to favor beginnings and not like endings so much . . .

  6. Marguerite this is such a beautiful expression of compassion, of being present to what is needed in the moment; acceptance, lovingkindness, allowing this man to maintain his dignity in his own way. Just beautiful. He is blessed to have you there with him as you are blessed by learning from this gentle soul living the best way he can at this difficult time in his life. Thank you for sharing this story.

  7. Oh! Laura, thank you. Just went over to your blog, and was so moved by last post, the one you wrote from your hospital bed . . .

    You are also a very gifted writer!

  8. It takes a lot of mental strength not to intervene with what you've witnessed. You're remarkable. Hope you'll continue to grow stronger within. Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

  9. It takes awareness and wise understanding of the reality of the person living with Alzheimer's.