Apologies for another late posting in this series – but better late than never.
I had to feed my dad most of his meal.
It’s not the first time. And it may not be the last.
For a change, I’d arrived to visit him in his care home at Sunday lunchtime. He was happily surprised to see me, not realising that I visit every week. I was offered dinner with him but I knew I had it waiting for me at home.
First came a small glass of sherry, Croft Original, his favourite.
“What did I do to deserve this?” he exclaimed with delight.
“You fathered a thoughtful daughter,” I smiled in return.
It was gone in two mouthfuls, although several times later he picked up the glass again hopefully, only to put it down again disappointed, wondering where all the liquid had gone. It was difficult to tell if this familiar routine was a joke or not.
With prompting, he ate two pieces of roast chicken, chewing slowly and taking an age before he swallowed. Then he gave up.
That’s a part of dementia no one tells you about – the loss of appetite, the inability to recognise hunger or thirst, the lack of understanding of the need to eat and drink, the magical disappearance of a meal from the awareness as soon as it is out of vision. No wonder he had weight loss when he lived alone, along with dehydration, blood pressure problems, and eventually kidney injury. Here in the care his weight is stable, his intake and blood pressure well controlled, and his diabetic state reduced to pre-diabetic for the first time in decades.
But it is heart breaking to see him lose his enjoyment of food, this man who adored his wife’s cooking, which she adapted specially for him, for his tastes, whims, and health needs.
I toyed with the idea of just leaving him with his decision to eat no more, thinking this was the dignified adult way, but I couldn’t get rid of the thought that he didn’t have the mental capacity to make this decision so it was actually kinder to try and feed him.
He let me do it. I didn’t force food through his lips. But I did persuade him to eat more than he would have chosen left to his own devices. I spooned mouthfuls of potato puree, then Yorkshire pudding and gravy, into his mouth, helpless to escape the memories of feeding my children as babies just as he must have fed me. I left the vegetables that I knew he would have previously avoided but talked him into trying a dessert he never used to eat – profiteroles – on the basis that they had dark chocolate on them, his favourite. Sadly, although he ate them, he couldn’t taste the chocolate.
It was turning into another dispiriting visit.
Then I remembered the photos in my bag that I had brought with me. His glasses are still missing and his sight limited but some photos sparked recognition – his parents, his favourite teacher, the cricket team he played in for 25 years. And then I found an old typed sheet, the annual report from 1969 by the cricket club secretary, detailing all the bowling and batting statistics for each player.
As I read them out, I saw the spark of intelligence and understanding back in his eyes. He was able to put full names to many of the surnames, explain who they were related to, comment on how good or bad a score was. He smiled at the memories of old friends and idyllic summer weekends. He remembered the park that had been their home ground, talked of how I had never stayed to watch the game but always headed off to play in the paddling pool instead, discussed how he had passed his love of cricket on to my brother.
The last half hour of my visit sped by. It was wonderful to see him animated again.
When it was time for me to leave – Dad was tired again, wanting his afternoon nap, and I was hungry – at least my heart wasn’t as heavy. It is hard work visiting my dad, seeing him reduced from the man he used to be. I miss him. But there are these moments, minutes even, when with the right prompt, he is restored again. So I will try to hold onto them and count them as blessings