I was recently reading a blog about cooking meals throughout the week. The concept of meals, planning ahead, menu’s, dietary requirements, healthy vs. non-healthy, etc. It can be complicated sometimes. Reading this mild blog I had a memory cross my mind.
This food thing…When my husband first became sick with pancreatic cancer the first thing that went for him was the ability to eat. He couldn’t tolerate any of his favorite foods anymore and it became a real challenge to find foods that he could eat and tolerate. His throat was closing due to vericose vein backing up in his throat; swallowing was very difficult for him. The cancer caused his stomach to be upset all the time so finding anything he could eat was a real challenge. Bananas were good but you can’t live only on banana’s. I think even monkeys eat something else, right?
Mike loved to eat and I cooked to match his love. But that ended and food instead of being enjoyable, became a mere necessity to survival.
Mike’s parents however did not seem to understand that food was a huge issue once cancer came to live in our home. Mom and dad are both very large (read here obese) and habitually enjoyed three full square meals daily. They came to stay with us on occasion while Mike was sick. While staying in our home my in-law’s seemed to pretend nothing was amiss. I got it then, I get it now. But really people we can’t pretend Mike isn’t dying here can we? Or let’s do this on a schedule. I’ll pretend he’s just sick on M, W & F. You get the rest of the days of the week.
In their pretense they wanted to be fed. Meals. Daily. So out of respect for them I cooked. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I cared for Mike between meals, during meals, after meals. Now let me explain these meals. A piece of toast and some fruit for breakfast for these people was insufficient. They needed their eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, coffee, juice and whatever else I could throw on the table. Cooking for them didn’t bother me too much, at first.
But while they were eating, they would ask me, “what’s for lunch?” Whaaat? I haven’t cleaned the breakfast dishes yet and you are thinking about lunch? My stomach was constantly in knots from the tension so eating was never pleasant for me. Mike and I shared that discomfort.
Breakfast done and would these two gluttonous selfish people offer to clean the kitchen for me while I cared for my dying husband? No way. They’d get up from the table and go sit in whatever room Mike was sitting.
Alright, I’ll clean the kitchen. It gave me something to do that was mundane and “normal” and I knew I’d have some time to myself as the in-laws wouldn’t come into that room at all. Until lunch time.
Lunchtime. Sandwiches and soup ok with you pigs–I meant people? Ok. Yes, with potato salad, chips or whatever. A pattern developed soon enough. I cooked and cleaned up after them and they viewed me as the nameless, faceless hired hand. What about the 10 years I’ve been with your son? What about the fact that he legally adopted my children? You never learned my name in all those years? I guess not. But it wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about them it was all about Mike. So I bite my tongue.
I did find it offensive that these two people focused so much on food, something their son could not enjoy. I found it just wrong on so many levels that they ignored what I thought was obvious, can you eat somewhere else so as not to remind your son what he’s missing out on? It was also sad as Mike and I had a long-standing mandatory requirement–we made it a point to have dinner every night with our kids, as a family. We connected then, at the dinner table each day. To have this disconnection with his parents was hurtful.
One time Bob my FIL said he’d go to a local fast food place to pick up lunch. Oh? REALLY?! Ok Mike can’t eat that crap and I don’t want to but thank you for offering to pay for something finally. Bob ignored me of course. To appease his parents Mike requested a baked potato with butter only. Nothing more, can’t eat anything other than that. What does Bob bring home for his son? A baked potato loaded with processed cheese and other junk. We sit at the table and Mike unwraps this potato and looks at me, almost in desperation, “I can’t eat this!” I knew that. Actually he could eat it provided he wanted to be sick the rest of the day; to the extent of throwing up even. I thought Mike was going to burst into tears. He was a strong, solid and stoic man but cancer brings the strongest of us to our knees sometimes. He said to his parents that he couldn’t eat it. His mother thoughtfully piped in, that’s ok she (indicated me the maid) can just make you another potato. Ok. Wait one minute here you b*%ch! I don’t HAVE any potatoes in the house right now and why didn’t you just get him what he asked for?!
I made Mike a shake for his lunch.
That was a sampling of a usual day regarding food with the in-laws. At times Mike was in the hospital and these people would bring food to the room. The smell of food became impossible for me to tolerate. It represented so much in the life of Mike and me. It became an insult every time the in-laws mentioned food–which seemed constantly. One time I did broach the subject with them, do you understand that we don’t really know what causes pancreatic cancer? After all dear MIL isn’t it true that your mother also died of pancreatic cancer? Don’t you think there might be a connection to the food and the cancer? Don’t you think, perhaps that eating a little less food daily would help you lose some weight and thereby ease your aching knees and your high blood pressure dear MIL? And dear FIL don’t you think if you ate less food every day you wouldn’t be having all your health problems? Their response to me was, “you have to eat to live.” Yes, true but your eating habits are in fact killing you and perhaps the eating habits you instilled in your kids is now what’s killing your son. Just a thought, sorry to bother you from your next meal planning dear in-laws.
One time, toward THE END, they brought food into the hospital. I don’t know what it was and didn’t care. Three months of this highly annoying food thing and I was just about done with the whole thing. I refused their offer for food. I refused their offer to let me use their hotel room to shower. I didn’t need them for that as someone who worked in the hospital knew I was not leaving, he provided me soap, towel, a shower and other amenities. I was fine. A few hours later some friends of my daughters showed up. They brought food, toothbrush/paste and that sort of thing. Thoughtful because I hadn’t asked for anything. The thing that stands out for me is the food. I don’t remember what they brought but I ate it. I ate it in front of my in-laws. I knew then what I know now, it was an utter act of defiance. The friends who brought the food, brought it out of compassion and caring, the in-laws tried to tempt me with offers of food for ulterior motives. The motives I discovered later. They are not part of this writing so I will omit them. However, I discovered I could eat something brought by people who cared and couldn’t eat anything brought by people who were mean, selfish and stupid. As if the very food they brought contained the emotions of the one who brought it and could somehow invade me. Ok, I was pretty tired after 3 months of this drama on a daily basis. Maybe I wasn’t thinking all that rationally. Or maybe I was. I didn’t care to be honest if I insulted the in-laws or not.
After Mike died I planned a wake, with food, food, food. Food for the guests. His family did not attend.
FOOD FOOD FOOD FOOD, the idea of food disgusted me! After that day I thought to myself I am so sick of food the concept of food, the preparation of food, the word food, anything associated with food I’m done. I got a true understanding and appreciation for eating disorders then. My life was falling apart, every day was chaos, I could control none of it BUT the food I put in my mouth. That part was the only part I could control. So I controlled my environment by the food I decided I wasn’t going to eat. Which was ALL food. For a time. A long time. About 8 months of time. One day I took a look at myself in the mirror and realized I had lost a lot of weight. Not being overweight to begin with I didn’t have much fat to lose. While looking at myself I realized I have control now, the in-laws are completely and forever out of my life so I don’t need to be defiant any longer. So I began to eat regular meals again. That alone brought its own share of hurt–did I cook food that killed Mike? Should I have been more insistent that he eat more salads and less meat? Woulda’s, shoulda’s and coulda’s can haunt a person. I have changed what I cook now, its much more healthy and I am very conscious of what I’ve eaten for the day, or not.
I picture the in-laws sitting at their dining table gobbling handfuls of unhealthy fried food and I wonder if they ever remember the meals I prepared for them. I laugh at myself then and tell myself they don’t remember my name why would they remember the meals? My MIL always refused to eat one dish–no matter which meal it was–one dish that I cooked, she would refuse to eat. Don’t tell me she wasn’t doing some passive-aggressive power play at every meal! I am relieved now to know that I shall never, ever have to see them again; especially that I will never have to cook for them again. Ever. Its small but I’ll take it.