Are you one of the many people who are looking after someone who is very ill? Perhaps a spouse, sibling, parent or friend? As you well know, it is a highly tiring and difficult task, however much it is undertaken with love.
You may be overloaded with advice, but I’d like to add a few thoughts about food.
People who are ill rarely want to eat. Nothing looks good or tastes good and they just pick at whatever you put in front of them. And then they feel tired, have no energy and little chance to enjoy the days, months or, perhaps, years they have remaining.
In the course of writing a book about end-of-life care, I interviewed a hospice cook who was devoted to encouraging ill people to eat. If they eat even a little, he said, they will have a much better quality of life.
Instead of sleeping all the time, he noted, they will be able to talk to family and friends – and, when needed, say their goodbyes. There may be unresolved issues and talking is important for laying these to rest. This is altogether better for the ill person and better for those looking after him or her.
The cook, with long experience, had many pointers to suggest. Give the ill person some choice wherever possible, as they will have so few areas in which they can exercise any sense of control.
Don’t overwhelm them with too much food; use small plates and small bowls so that what is offered looks an amount they could cope with. One small piece of meat, one small potato, something green or a small carrot for colour and it can look much more inviting. Herbs can add valuable taste for jaundiced appetites and can offset the effects of medication.
If possible, keep the preparation at a distance, as the smell of cooking can be very off-putting. See if you could borrow a neighbour’s kitchen if you want to cook something that takes time or has a powerful smell. People are often very eager to help.
Finally, the cook stressed the importance of making eating a social occasion. Talking and even laughing over food provides a welcome sense of life and normality. Sit down together and discuss the news of the day or something else of interest. Sometimes, a small amount of alcohol would not go amiss, depending on the drugs the person is on.
He was also keen to get people out of bed wherever possible. A table nearby, even with a tablecloth, can look much more inviting than the tiresome sick bed.
Cooking for people who are very sick is not easy at the best of times. But these ideas provide some ways to make it more palatable for the patient and more satisfying for the cook.
Have you ever had to cook for someone who was very ill? What did you encourage them to eat? Do you have any additional tips for others? Please share in the comments.
Life in a Hospice: Reflections on Caring for the Dying by Ann Richardson has just been re-launched as an e-book on Amazon. You can read more about it, including reviews and sample chapters here.