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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 return...it'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.

                1. Not a buzz kill at all, as death affects us all and many times during the holidays. I remember the day after my mother passed, the doorbell rang and a delivery man stood there with a tray of ziti, a tray of chicken marsala, and a huge salad with tons of bread. They didn't even tell us who sent it, but I knew. My mother died during the summer, someone who had read about it in the paper, didn't see me until the following October and the first day back to a seasonal job, presented me with a huge basket of goodies for me and my family. This and the outpouring of help and generosity when my mother (the main cook in the family) was sick, was so appreciated and so thoughtful. Just one tray of something fed the rest of us for a few nights. It is always appreciated, no matter what you bring.

                  1. I've been to several sad funerals, gone back to the home of the survivor and been ravenously hungry after crying and grieving. The food laid out for us was so welcome! People will often bring food to the home of someone who has suffered a death. The family is coping with so much--shock, grief, reliving the death, funeral and burial decisions. Food is welcome. But if the social support isn't there, that is no church membership, or strong social group, or no extended family, there won't be anyone to provide this.

                    So if it is a close relative, I'd just go. You'll know if you can be of service when you get there. If it isn't a close relative, I'd plan to provide food for the family, particularly if you won't be involved with emotional decisions.

                    Good for you for thinking ahead to this sad time.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sueatmo

                      +1 on this idea. My son-in-law died last year and the holidays were rough. Many people brought snack items (cheeses, sandwiches, etc.). One specific woman asked if she could provide the entire meal after services, and that was exactly what she did. Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables, salads (tossed and jello for the little ones), rolls, butter, and ice cream for dessert. She brought everything and this was for about 20 family members at the house. What a kind and thoughtful woman she was.

                      1. re: sueatmo

                        During the dying part, I've dropped off pots of soup, homemade pulled pork with rolls, ham biscuits, etc. Things that can be heated up as an individual serving, if people are in and out between hospital/hospice visits. When a friend's mother asked to be brought home to die last year, a bunch of us took turns bringing over brunch/lunch and dinner every day, for the two weeks. Then once she passed, the family was happy to get out for meals.

                      2. If I were flying out of the door as soon as I heard the news, I wouldn't stop to get food. That can come later. But yes, the food-bringing is a multicultural phenomenon. Small town Midwestern, where I grew up, to London, I've seen it practically everywhere.

                        1. Ahhh. We're in the same situation this year, except the relative is too far away for a visit. My sympathies are with you.

                          As for answers:
                          1. If they are eager to eat and able, just offer what they like/ask family what they'd like. Soft foods, not spicy, soups, etc., may go down better. As a nurse, I can tell you that most folks in their very last days have little interest in food and drink, and it's no help to try to push it on them. Frankly, many just need mouth and lip care (soft swabs/gauze with water/ice, ice chips to suck on, and vaseline/carmex for lips).

                          2. Most supermarts offer a veggie/fruit/or deli tray year-round. If you're going by car, it's often only 10 more minutes to pick one up. I also like the ideas that others suggested for having some pre-made and frozen soups or meals ready to take along, too. My family is of Irish background, so whiskey/beer/wine is always approp.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: DuchessNukem

                            I agree with this response.

                            If your family has just experienced a loss of a loved one, they probably want you over there for comfort and food is an afterthought, but people lose themselves and a little nosh is good so a deli tray is a great idea. Later, depending on the person and what id being given by others, you can bring over cake (if you are coming over to give hugs and love, but do not want them to have obligations of feeding you) or you can bring frozen things with directions on them. This is especially welcomed if the person who died was the cook or there are lots of things to deal with and the person is overburdened.

                            My best to you and your family.

                          2. Aww, that just sucks! I'd be sure to take care of yourself, drink lots of water, eat well, get your rest.

                            As a former hospice worker and volunteer, I've got some biased opinions.

                            First off is for 1., make sure the individual who is passing is able to eat the food you are thinking of bringing. Food sucks when in hospitals, nursing homes or even when it is made by a home health aide who is not your family member. Illness can cause much discomfort when eating. But, it also sucks to feel yucky and see your favourite dish in front of you when you can't eat it.

                            Take into consideration their teeth--is there pain or tooth damage that might make it difficult to chew tough, hard or crunchy items?

                            Their throat--is it dry, sore or are they having trouble salivating or swallowing? Soups are great for this kind of discomfort!

                            How is the relative's digestion? If they are having digestive difficulties, chopping food well and even mashing home cooked food might help things go down more easily and sit better in their tummies. Yoghurt is great for digestive upsets, especially if it is their favourite flavour (as long as they are not lactose intolerant or vegan!)

                            Ask for their doctor's recommendations. Yes, even if someone is dying or in hospice, they might still be under strict doctor's orders (not usually though). It is wise to ask the doctor if there is anything they should not be eating.

                            And, for 2., This is the kind of thing that really should be considered, done and then not made much to do about. Your family might not be in the right place to think about cooking yummy and healthy (not TOO healthy!) foods and they really need your support with this. But, they probably have so much stuff going on including the emotions, the stupid paper work, decisions galore and finances to be able to focus on what you brought or to even give a thank you.

                            It is great to bring something that takes little effort such as a casserole. When you come in, you can just say something akin to "let me pop this in the freezer (or fridge) for you." They'll find it and it will make at least one dinner much, much easier. You can even write on the saran wrap or foil with a black sharpie "heat at 350 for 45 minutes" or what have you.

                            Also, for the family, little bags of yummies such as trail mix, their favourite crackers, nuts or those little clementines is a great idea. Leaving four or five small bags on the counter is a thought, that way, when they rush out the door without eating breakfast, they can just grab a bag and go.

                            for 1.,
                            Oh, and candies! Hard candies can really help them if they are having trouble salivating or if their illness is causing an icky taste in their mouth. I would just double check with the doctor or aide if their is a concern about a choaking hazard. I think Trader Joes has very small hard candies that probably are not even a hazardif they just slide down before finished.

                            I hope that helps some!!

                            1. Hi Thom,

                              Your post caught my eye as my father is in hospice. Unfortunately, he is no longer eating, but it's a little funny that his last understandable words were 'Kung Pao Chicken.' *sigh*

                              He loved, loved, loved orange popsicles, I think for the moisture and coolness. Oatmeal was also a biggie with him, easy to swallow and nutritious.

                              1. Sorriest to hear. You are a wonderful person to take care of all this.

                                "Let's say you have an elderly relative who's passing slowly. Woiuld you offer food, and if so what sort?"

                                Whatever the person wants, no matter how seemingly unhealthy. Go for it.
                                I offered a jar of fresh foie gras to a similarly very sick friend and was roundly criticized at first. I said: "he could eat whatever he goddam well pleases". Friends thought it over and agreed with me.

                                "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?"

                                Food that takes the least preparation. The family's card is full. It will not have time to take care of food and will appreciate your "takeout".

                                Lastly, people like make the holidays meaningful.

                                1. For the second part, besides food, it might be helpful to add a few paper products-toilet paper, napkins, paper towels and plates. We had people send a pizza which was well received by the kids.

                                  1. A 1. No, I would either take them out somewhere they enjoy or bring food of their choice from a favorite restaurant. E.g. If they really like a certain potato chip and haven`t had it for ages...that is what I am bringing

                                    A 2. If I am going to attend one of the funeral ceremonies, I take nothing