We associate food with comfort. Babies bond with their mothers while nursing or being fed a bottle. We give our loved one chicken soup when they are in bed with a cold.
is so important to our cultural celebrations and holidays. A colorfully decorated cake and ice cream on birthdays. Turkey and all the trimmings on Thanksgiving. Spiral ham, pecan pies and sugar cookies at Christmas. Sufganiyah and livivot on Hanukah. BBQ burgers, dogs and ice cold watermelon on the 4th of July. It goes on and on. For generations, this is how we have shown our family and friends that we care about them
As a 20 year hospice nurse, the common concern I hear from families of our hospice patients is: “I don’t want mom to starve
,” or “I really want to get some fluids into dad
I completely understand their concern on several levels.
Personal: Four years ago my mother died. She was admitted to a rural hospice service after a lengthy illness. She had gone five days without food or fluids. My siblings and I were at her bedside when she took her last breath. I have to admit, even knowing the clinical implications of forcing food or fluids at the time of death, I struggled to make the decision.
Emotional: It is difficult to think that we may be allowing our loved ones to feel hunger or thirst. Caregivers wonder: Am I going to feel guilty after it is all said and done?
Clinical: During a terminal illness, providing food or fluids late in the dying process can actually be worse for our loved one.
While all of those levels are important, it is the clinical level that is the most easily misunderstood. I want to explain how and why it is not always best to feed and hydrate dying patients.
Grief comes into each of our lives at different times and for different reasons. We may instinctively grieve the loss of a person we love, but can also feel profound, life-changing emotions related to the loss of a job, a relationship, a pet, a home, even a dream.