I’VE seen what uncontrolled eating does to a person, and I’ve also seen what mindful eating and eating in moderation does too. My late mother and brother both loved food. They were connoisseurs of the best and the most delicious. They knew where to go, and in my mother’s case, she could replicate what she ate anywhere in the world right there in her kitchen at home for all of us to enjoy. That was her gift and genius.
But this passion came with a price; one that gave them what was written in their medical file as “uncontrolled diabetes” and later on, “end stage renal failure” that required haemodialysis.
My mum and brother certainly led the good life while they were able. They lived with such gusto and passion that you couldn’t help but be enveloped in their joie de vivre. They were much loved by those who knew them.
When the doctors told them they had to eat differently to keep themselves in good health, which meant cutting down or totally avoiding certain foods, they were depressed. To them, it was all or nothing and they found it difficult to compromise or change their lifestyle, especially what they ate.
So despite warnings, they continued their ways with gay abandon, took their medications religiously but despite all that, still fell into the slippery slopes forewarned by their doctors.
The family was at a loss as to what to do. We had made, prepared and served the “right” meals, but they’d both sneak out and indulge. I’ve never seen a mother and son pair who were as thick as thieves when it came to their eating adventures. They were gleeful when they felt that they had tricked their “wardens” (that would be my siblings and I). Looking back, it was adorable to see the bond between these two, but the way their bad habits over the years destroyed their health broke our hearts.
The diet they were put on while they were on haemodialysis was strict. Water intake was especially restricted. Their kidneys had already failed and all other organs needed to be maintained as best as possible because the toxins could build up to a point even dialysis couldn’t help.
Negotiations on what they could and couldn’t eat went on for years, even before they started their haemodialysis. It even came to this kind of deal: just two bites of the lamb biryani and I’ll eat your healthy meal.
As mum’s health worsened, we tried to keep her meals delicious but healthy. But she had her cravings and asked for food like salted eggs and budu, a salty fish sauce that’s a staple for those from the East Coast.
She said she couldn’t taste anything. Whatever she wanted in terms of food was intense in taste. What was ok for her was extreme to me. So we said, have a little bit of that, but you must eat what we’ve made. She’d take the two bites of her favourite food and then said she couldn’t eat anymore because she was full. I felt like she’d tricked us into getting her way.
Then she complained that she couldn’t swallow her tablets anymore. It stuck in her throat and she couldn’t breathe, she said. She wanted to stop medications, and she didn’t want to go for dialysis anymore. She said it was all so painful and that no one understood her, listened to her or believed her.
We couldn’t let her stop her medications or discontinue dialysis. She wouldn’t last a week without them. This went on for a while. She was stressed out, and so were we. She was too tired to go on but we couldn’t let her go. We weren’t ready to live a life without her.
Finally, after one of the regular check-ups with her doctors, we were told to let up. She was in her final stages of life. Changing her diet now wasn’t going to make her better. We were advised to make peace with what was going on, and focus more on her emotional well-being.
Our realities and priorities changed. Just like that. It shifted from curative measures to managing her pain and discomfort. We learnt to go with her flow, whatever she wanted — anything and everything. Nothing was too much trouble for her.
We put her needs and wants as priority. She was happier. She felt respected and cherished, and her depression ebbed away. That also meant one less medication. This made her more lucid and we spent more time talking and working out emotions and reconnecting with long-lost relatives.
It was amazing to feel a certain load being lifted off. There were no more deals and negotiations. This helped us come to terms with the fact that she was going to leave us. It also helped mum prepare for her final journey.
My brother travelled the same path a few years later. It was difficult for us nonetheless, but we knew a little better by then. May the Almighty bless their souls.Amin.
The views expressed here are entirely from the writer’s own experience and observations.
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