It was a Sunday. I know, because that’s the day I always phoned my mother. It was the day she cried out in dismay, “I can’t eat anything anymore!”
Her digestive track was an open wind tunnel for food to blow through. Even her morning slice of plain toast had her running to the loo. She was tethered to her bathroom, a prisoner in her home.
My dad didn’t know what to do. Her doctor’s suggestions weren’t working. Most of her social circle simply didn’t understand or worse, judged and dismissed her all together. Their words hurt. “Why don’t you just take a pill and get over it.” She wished she could.
I listened. The colon blows had started after her last sequence of chemotherapy treatments. She had tried digestive enzymes with unreliable results. Her symptoms were getting worse, not better.
My mother was frustrated, anxious but mostly scared. All her life she’d made sure the family ate nutritious meals. And if anyone was ill, she’d still feed us. “You need to eat to stay strong,” she’d say. What was she to do? Was she now doomed to a death from starvation?
Food allergies and intolerances can strike at any age and are caused by many different factors. Some become permanent; others come and go. Either way, they are particularly challenging for adults and even more so for seniors who have had a long history of enjoying particular foods. My mother was a very proud and independent woman. I could only imagine how overwhelming all this was for her.
I proposed she try solutions my naturopath had recommended and worked for me: eliminate all wheat and dairy from the diet for two or three weeks.
Within two weeks, my mother was able to go a whole day without any massive bathroom problems. There was hope. However she was getting weary of preparing what she called two main meals every day: a super plain one without any flavor for herself and one for my dad. She longed for just a few of her old favorites back in her diet – she felt that would be enough.
My eight-five year old mother was baffled on how to incorporate her dietary restriction into meals that would satisfy both her and my dad’s food preferences. And she was focused on what she couldn’t eat instead of what she could.
I packed my bags, took a few vacation days off from work and flew out for a visit.
I drove my parents to the local health food store. They were awestruck. I selected foods that both were prepared to eat: dairy-free cream cheese with gluten free crackers for mom, macaroni and spaghetti made from rice for dad. There was almond milk for mom to drink and coconut milk and arrowroot starch she could us for thickening the meat and vegetable sauces she liked to make.
Back at their condo, I baked them muffins made from almond meal and cookies from gluten free flour and coconuts. My mother was in tears. There was familiar comfort in the new foods she was eating.
Living with food intolerances is challenging at the best of times, but when it strikes unexpectedly at a late age, it becomes debilitating. My mom may have been a blessing in my life, but in that moment, I felt I was one in hers as well.