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Dec 14, 2010 03:42 PM

Food and the dying family

I don't want to be a holiday season buzz-killer but tis happens to be a cogent topic in my life (hopefully not yours, too).
Part 1. Let's say you have an elderly relative who's passing slowly. Woiuld you offer food, and if so what sort?
2. You just get a call that a relative has passed, and you're going to dress quickly and go to the house to console the family. What food or drink do you bring?
Thanks a lot.

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  1. I'm so sorry. I think this largely depends on your family's culture, background and personal views. For example, my family is Jewish but not overly religious. When my husand's dad died, people brought shiva platters (bagels, lox, pastries) and tons of food which was much appreciated as for a shiva, tons of people are constantly coming over to offer condolences. However, my mom is not a very social person and has made it clear that when my dad passes, she does not want anyone sending any food. (I'll probably have to have the shiva at my house in that case). Whether or not the family is Jewish (or Muslim as their traditions are similar), food is always appreciated. When grieving, it's easy to lose track of basic needs, especially cooking. The most traditional obviously is desserts and pastries, but that's more for the guests than the actual family. I would suggest homemade meals that can be frozen just in case, to take the burden off of cooking. For someone who is dying however, that's a tougher call. If they're coherent I would ask the person what they would like. If not, ask the family. I'm sure they'd at least appreciate the kind thought.

    5 Replies
    1. re: NicoleFriedman

      It's not just Jewish or Muslim that traditionally send food. I was raised in about as WASPy an environment as you can find, and the minute anything happened - wedding, funeral, new baby, surgery, whatever -- the casseroles began to show up. Brought by friends and neighbors, wrapped tightly and left on the doorstep, there was always food being delivered by someone for both good news and bad. There's a committee in the church my grandparents belonged to before they passed -- this group of ladies comes to the church and lays out an enormous buffet for every funeral held at the church...and not a penny is asked in's just what folks do.

      And it's a great thing..when you're distracted by the big stuff and wrestling with emotions, it's hard to find time and sometimes hard to just remember to eat, so having something around that's fast and nutritious is important. There are always extra people in the house during big life events, too.

      The fact that it's made by people who love you and are offering it as a celebration/shared mourning helps, too.

      1. re: sunshine842

        I didn't mean to imply that Jews and Muslims are the only cultures that send food to a grieving family. However, I pointed out that in those 2 cultures, food is a vital part of the grieving process. Also, there are many people that instead of or in addition to food tend to send flowers, especially for a funeral. Yet, Jews almost never send flowers- at the gravesite they put stones on top of the grave as stones are more permanent than flowers.

        1. re: NicoleFriedman

          NF: I for one didn't see that implication, I took it as an expression of the universality of food, but also the need to consider how the bereaved might accept any gesture.

          although I have to chuckle over the mental picture of my mother's reaction if everybody brings a stone to my Dad's interment service...(yeah, make sure he stays put)

      2. re: NicoleFriedman

        re part 1, ask someone close what the restrictions might be, and what the issues, like say chewing might be. and then ask the intended what they might like.

        part 2: we Gentiles also need to be reminded, strictly speaking the Shiva food shouldn't leave the house (ie no taking away leftovers in doggie bags, no matter the inevitable waste or how well intentioned)

        in the past I've made a few small (bread loaf pan size) lasagnas or frittatas in recyclable containers (last thing you want is the obligation of washing and returning a piece of ceramic) but I always have to remind myself no meat with cheese.

        1. re: NicoleFriedman


          is this what you were looking for? Sorry i read an old topic of you and I just found this video, I created an account just for you, look how nice i am lol

        2. 1. Always show up with food or drink to a family members house, dying or otherwise. What sort? Whatever you know that they could eat, or would enjoy...

          2. IMO, after said family member dies, you'll have plenty of time to comfort the bereaved. So take your time, figure out what's needed, and do it right. There's nothing worse than everyone showing up to a wake with bean casserole, and nobody remembering to bring a bottle of the Irish.

          If it's really short notice, I'd take a bottle of whiskey/wine, and take an extra 30 minutes to make a cheese tray to take with me. The living can wait, and the dead aren't going anywhere...

          2 Replies
          1. re: deet13

            deet, I have never figured out how the universal vibe works, but I've never had duplicates of any casserole at any major life event. Not sure how it works, it just does.

            1. re: sunshine842

              Heh, we've had it happen a couple of times since my aunt, who usually took it upon herself to arrange these events, died in a car accident back in '02. "Don't forget the green bean casserole..." has turned into one of those morbid family jokes.

              But now we can use Facebook, forum posts, and e-mails to arrange these niggling little details ahead of time...

          2. First of all, I am so sorry that this is your predicament. To address part 1, I would bring whatever the relative enjoys/is still able to eat, whether it is mac and cheese, a bowl of ramen, or a shot of whiskey.

            Second, if you want to be prepared I would either have some sort of food prepared in the freezer, ready to go (lasagna, soup, or something else that freezes well) or have picky/snacky food on hand to bring over in a hurry. I would keep some crackers and good cheese on hand, perhaps some sort of cured meats too, ready to be pulled from the fridge/cabinet that you can quickly slice up at the family's home. Snack food you can pick on throughout the day may be the way to go, especially if people aren't feeling hungry but need to get a little something in their system.

            1. The elderly relative that's passing slowly--if there's an old favorite food or beverage that they haven't been allowed to have for a while? I say let them have a moderate amount of that. What the hell. If somebody's working on dying anyway, why not let them have a taste of what they loved in life!

              In the aftermath--I agree with everyone else. Most any sort of food that's easy for the bereaved to deal with and eat will be appreciated. I had the sad experience of discovering that bringing food to the bereaved may be a vanishing tradition. My father-in-law passed away a few years ago after prolonged illness, and I figured that the members of my in-law's church would be beating down the doors with food. They didn't. It was winter, and most of my MIL's friends were in Florida or Arizona for the season, and apparently the younger generation of her church just aren't carrying the ball on that front. After a few days, one of her oldest friends (who was fresh out of the hospital herself) came teetering to the door bearing a giant deli tray. I nearly fell to the ground and kissed that sweet lady's feet. Ever since then, i have always, always ALWAYS made sure to make and deliver some sort of food within 24 hours of hearing the news of a loss for family and friends. Go generic if you don't know who all will be there (like a deli tray or veggie tray), and if you know the people better, it's a great time for big blow-out comfort foods like homemade mac and cheese or pot roast or a big creamy, cheesy casserole of some sort or another.

              Hang in there Thom. I know how hard it can be to deal with this sort of thing anytime, let alone at the holidays.

              2 Replies
              1. re: dingey

                +1 for bringing what the elderly wants/misses. My grandmother passed about a year ago - during the last few weeks of her life the hospice nurses said to heck with the diabetic diet and started bringing milkshakes daily. It made Grandmom a very happy woman.

                I sad to read about you experience with you father-in-law's death. My grandmother's funeral was on Dec. 23rd, and the women from her church still managed to put together a wonderful meal to feed 20+ family members. We fully expected her funeral to be family only, but learned to never underestimate small town neighborly love.

                1. re: mpjmph

                  I'm definitely going to agree with you on #1. A friend recently asked for a cheesecake recipe, mentioning that her elderly relative had been asking for homemade cheesecake for a while. She planned to bake the cheesecake from scratch, present it to the relative, and then scoop out the filling and puree it with milk so that he could drink it. Such a nice thing to do for someone who doesn't have much time left.

              2. 1. Depends on what other care they were receiving. If no-one to really care, then of course we'd cook. If normal standards of care were in place, then no. Anything else would seem odd, generally speaking. If it is me that is dying, then I hope someone thinks to bring me a bottle of calvados and packet of cigarettes.

                2. None. I might go out for takeaway after I'd done my initial consoling. Anything else would seem odd.