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.

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