Come Eating and Drinking, Come Hungry

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In my father’s last days, his hunger vanished. 

As he shrunk like a hollowed out husk, his spirit being gathered by the very hand of God, his appetites died within him. The hospice nurse handed me a pamphlet about the stages of death and closed her palm gently over the back of my hand. 

“Fluid and food decrease. Your loved one may want little or no food or fluid. The body will naturally conserve energy required for the task ahead. Food is no longer needed. As the end-of-life physical changes occur, your loved one is completing important work on another level. Emotional and spiritual changes may be manifested. An IV can be used for your loved ones comfort if oral intake is not possible. Loss of appetite is one of the final stages of death.”

Skilled hands slipped on latex gloves and threaded an IV into his veins to keep him hydrated and to limit pain but his lips had already spoken their last words and eaten their last bites. His eyes never opened again. 

He slipped easily from consciousness into a hushed body I no longer recognized as my dad. 

I didn’t know my dad without his appetite for life. 

As a girl, he would hoist me onto his lap and offer me love straight from his plate. He taught me that to offer a seat at a table was to invite communion and community. 

He sat on mud floors in dung huts beneath the Himalayas scraping small handfuls of dahl and rice into his mouth, eating hot momos cooked in the hammered pot full of sizzling oil spitting and hissing on the open flames. 

He held the white cardboard cone with fritz and mayonnaise, each bite warming me as we walked hand in hand from the street vendor in Holland. He ate oxtail soup and kim chee and lau lau in Hawaii. He scooped up menudo and posole with our Mexican friends, under the watermelon hued backdrop of the Sandia Mountains. He ordered lengua tacos from the tiny taco stands and doused them with fiery hot peppers.  

People always made room for him at their table. His fair skin and blue eyes were readily invited into so many cultures because of his love and respect for others’ customs and foods.

They welcomed him because he truly appreciated the great wide world of tastes and flavors, the halo of fragrance from steaming pots and sizzling pans. 

He was happiest sharing a meal because a meal shared meant an open invitation to belong to each other. 

But his hunger was no longer for this world. I watched as my dad slipped from his body into eternity. 

The hospital bed looked garish and oversized with his shrunken torso.The edema swelled his belly feigning a fullness he could no longer get from food and in those days it deflated like a balloon steadily losing air. His body sagged in dying, like the very soul of him had leaked out bit by bit.

And this was just one more part of it. This exhale where his body couldn’t contain him anymore. He was letting go of this world as God called him home, and releasing his appetite was one of the final tethers that broke.

Our bodies were made to be nourished. We are reminded as our stomachs groan and plead for food day after day that we are not autonomous from this world. We are bound by our physical needs. But we are also bound by the needs of our body and our body is always more than joint and sinew, marrow and muscle. Our body is a hungry church. 

Our bodies are sustained by the table.  After all, the Son of Man came eating and drinking. On his last night he didn’t preach a sermon, he poured wine and broke bread. 

It’s no wonder Jesus broke bread and drank wine and told us to remember. Because we forget so easily that we have communion and connection in the very physical act of eating and the very spiritual act of ingesting the life of God. That by passing the plate to our brother or taking it from our sister, we partake in the wild beauty of being fully alive. We embrace the body when we taste and know that God is good. 

We are fully awake to a God who created every burst on the tongue to tingle with the creamy smoothness of homemade ice-cream, or to steep in the flavors of summer fruit ripe and tangy, or to swell with the intoxicating scent of garlic and butter rising from the pan like holy incense.

We remember that we are not full of our own accord. We are made to worship the God who nourishes us while we gather as a body at the table. While we hunger and thirst, we remember we will know fullness of life if we taste and see that the Lord is good. 

Come hungry. Be filled.  

Alia Joy

Alia Joy is a storyteller, speaker, and homeschooling mother of three making her home in Central Oregon. She shares her story in broken bits and pieces on her blog and finds community where other’s stories intersect. She's a cynical idealist who is always trying to find the beautiful bits in the midst of the messy and broken. She believes even the most broken stories have a redeemer and she'll always dance to the good songs. She is a regular contributor at (in)courage, SheLoves, The Mudroom, and Deeper Waters and can be found on twitter hashtagging all the things, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and making goo-goo eyes at her husband.

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  • I wouldn’t be described as foodie. I don’t go looking for the best this or that but can enjoy a tasty meal, for sure. Your words have opened me up to see a deeper meaning into the hunger that is within. I was pulled in at first by your description of your father’s passing as my mother’s is so fresh in our memories and knowing how she hadn’t eaten. Yes, Alia your words have hit me fully today and I am blessed. Thank you.

    • Alia_Joy

      I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s so painful to watch a loved one passing. I am so glad these words spoke to you today. Let us all be people who remember our appetites and hunger for fullness in our lives. Thank you for sharing a small part of your story with me.

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  • Jean

    A beautiful tribute to your Dad. Praying you will feel very near our Heavenly Father in the days to come.

    • Alia_Joy

      Thank you, Jean. He passed away over 5 years ago and yet still, grief surprises me at odd times. I miss him every time we feast or celebrate. I’ve come to learn that grief and joy are not opposed. We can know them both.

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  • It was only the day before she died that we got hospice for my mother. When my sister-in-law began reading about the signs that death was approaching I realized that most of that had already happened. We never realized it was so close, but I did get to spend some beautiful time with her at the end. Your post brought back some memories. But your words are also very encouraging as we realize the importance of meeting and eating together. We are not only physically hungry but spiritually as well. Your invitation to “Come hungry. Be filled” is very welcoming. “We are made to worship the God who nourishes us while we gather as a body at the table.” We will “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Blessings to you dear sister, Alia! xo

    • Alia_Joy

      It was the same for us. He had been sick for so long and when the doctor said it was time for hospice after yet another doctor’s appointment we had no idea that 2 weeks later, he would be gone. They were trained to see the signs that death was coming, it was more jarring for us to recognize them. I know your grief is still fresh and I’m sorry for that process, it’s not easy. But yes, our hunger can still be met and I knew that until the very end. I love to think of my dad at the feast, at the table, finally full of everlasting life.

  • My dad always loved his food, his meat and potatoes and gravy ladled heavy. It was a grief to watch him in his final years, unable to enjoy a hearty meal like he used to. My poor mother bent over backwards trying to whet his appetite, but it was of no use.

    I’d like to think he’s feasting well these days, up there at the heavenly table, keeping a watchful eye on my little grandson as he races a tricycle up and down the streets of gold with great abandon …

    • Alia_Joy

      Those thoughts bring me such comfort as well. God created desire and hunger to be met fully. We are not people made for eternal longing but instead will be satiated by the Kingdom of God that is at hand. It gives me great hope when the world seems anything but.

  • Velynn

    If coming to the table next to your Daddy, is anything like sitting close to you -I truly know what it’s like to, “come hungry and leave filled”. Alia Joy you are truly a gift! And what a sacred blessing it has been to get know your heart, to get to read your words, to get to join in communion-in this space, in this season-at this table. Love you Sis!

    • Alia_Joy

      I would gladly share any table with you, friend. I’m hoping it will be a literal table since we’re not that far away but for now, I’ll settle for these online spaces and sharing our words.

  • I love this. Thank you for sharing. It IS indeed, so easy to forget. The next time I take “formal” communion at church, I will think about the intimacy of the dinner table with Jesus, his preaching over, just the food and drink left.

  • A beautiful weaving of words. I’m sorry for your loss and as I read this piece, I found myself sorry for the world’s loss. He sounds like a wonderful man to know.