March 20, 2018
By Danielle Southern
In nearly eight years of working with older adults in affordable housing, I’ve received all sorts of food donations from healthcare vendors. Turkey hot dogs, potato salad, hamburgers, fruit trays. I mean really. You name it, they’ve brought it. But last Friday after a vendor I’d invited showed up to talk about the benefits of supportive living, she slid on plastic serving gloves and pulled back the wrinkled foil from a rectangular disposable pan.
“We brought you all some corned beef sandwiches today,” she proudly announced. The residents happily ahhed. But for me, time halted and my eyes grew as large as saucers.
Just that morning I was clearing a stack of junk mail from my kitchen table and I noticed a grocery store sale paper. I skimmed the pages, assessing whether there was anything worth adding to my never-ending grocery list. Corned beef was on sale. So was cabbage. It summoned memories of standing in the meat department at Save-A-Lot, looking for a corned beef with just the right amount of fat on it. It was for my father. He cooked corned beef and cabbage every year for St. Patrick’s day and that year was no different except that he’d stopped driving, and I’d taken over his shopping for him. It was the first time I’d ever shopped for one. But I never learned to cook it.
Fast forward to last March, St. Patrick’s Day. I sat with him while he was in hospice. A CNA had delivered his lunch. I told her I’d feed him. Sure, it wasn’t home cooked but he wouldn’t turn down corned beef and cabbage. Not my dad. I tried to wake him, more for my own reasons I can admit. I wanted to be sure he’d eaten before I had to leave him for the evening.
I tried to wake him but he slept hard, only opening his eyes to yell about being left alone. He looked shocked to see that it was me, not a CNA, who he had yelled at. But he still wasn’t strong enough to keep his eyes open more than a few seconds. I set the fork full of food back onto the plate as he uncontrollably drifted back into sleep. Then I resigned to a chair adjacent from his bed. I watched him sleep. He’d make his transition just a few days later.
I told my husband that for the first time on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I didn’t have a taste for corned beef. Part of me felt like if my dad couldn’t enjoy it, neither should I. But when the vendor at work said she’d brought sandwiches, I knew my dad was there, nudging me, as he would have in life, to move forward. And to eat.
What triggers memories of your loved one for you? Is it a song they loved to dance to? Is it seeing an object that once belonged to them? Is it looking in the mirror and suddenly noticing the similarities in your faces?
Share how you’re dealing with those reminders in the comments.