They would not stop talking about the soup.
When my mother went into hospice, I had to leave for my home hundreds of miles away that very same night. So, for the first week or two of her stay, I was not able to visit her.
“It’s soooo good,” they would tell me. “And it’s so reasonable—just a donation of a few dollars.”
And I remember thinking who cares about the f^#* soup? How’s Mom?
Until I visited my mother and spent several very long days with her in the hospice facility.
I realized how very small your world becomes when you’re dying. You circle the wagons and realize how few wagons you really want with you on this journey. Well-intentioned visitors not of my mother’s inner circle used to frustrate me. “Can’t you see?” I wanted to scream. “Can’t you see we’re on the clock here? And every second you spend wearing her out is a second closer to her not being here? Can’t you see, you idiot, you’re robbing us of precious time?”
But I didn’t scream this, of course. I shook hands, and gestured reassuringly and spoke in the low, calm voice my mother preferred. I was Phyllis’ daughter through and through, even if inside I was screaming.
When you spend eight or more hours a day in a small hospice facility, you realize that Einstein’s theories of time may not be so far off base. The days and weeks speed by at an alarming rate, as you tick down from the number the doctors have said your mother has left. But the minutes and the hours seem to function more slowly. You spend what feels like eternity watching her unconscious form, reading to her (wondering if she can hear you), silently staring into space, crying, praying.
And when the aide comes to bathe her, you go into the common area, the one with the lovely vase filled with flowers that you hope are not from someone’s funeral, the comfortable sofas, the board games–and you eat soup.
You find yourself thinking that this soup really is homemade and very good—and quite possibly the highlight of your day. And you try to picture the little old woman you’re sure is in the kitchen making this soup. Does she have many grandchildren, like your mother? Is she a birdwatcher? Does she nag her husband? Or is she widowed? Did she get the recipe for this soup from her grandmother?
And that’s when it hits you. You fixate on the soup because when not fixated on it, you must square off with the elephant in the room—the one you feel is sitting on your lungs, which is surely why you find yourself forgetting to breathe for seconds at a time.
If you don’t think about the f#%# soup, you’re thinking about your mother dying. And how life will be after that. And your own death, because doesn’t that make you the next generation to go?
You hear the nurses and aides discussing their weekend or Walmart’s holiday sale, and you feel like they are visitors from a land you used to inhabit. Because you’ve not distinguished workdays from weekends for some time, as they’ve all blended together. And you can’t remember the last time you bought toothpaste or laundry detergent.
So, in the end, you forgive your sisters’ prattling on about the soup because you understand. That sometimes something as simple as homemade soup is the scarily small, mundane item that holds you together. Because if you had to think about what you were going to eat and then actually make or buy it, you think that might be the one thing that would fling you over the edge of sanity into Crazytown.
I think of this every time someone I love experiences the loss of someone they love. And while I’m making soup for them, which feels like the most inadequate thing to offer in a time of grief, I remember that it might just be the one thing that keeps them from losing it that day. I call it sanity soup.
I know that while they may have to choke it down, it is probably the most tangible bit of love and comfort I can offer at the moment.
So be it.