“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.