My friends and I spoke recently of family members in various stages of dementia and failing health.
Our declining ones hallucinate. They see children who aren’t there and can relate what the children are doing: running down the hall, making a mess with cereal, simply standing there in the room. They speak of loved ones long dead, as if they are well and visit regularly. Time is a viscous fluid in the brain of someone nearing the end of life; it is often hard to discern if the person is speaking of events that occurred yesterday, today, or fifty years ago.
Sometimes the visions are unnerving.
My father would visit Grannie, my mother’s mother, in the hospital. He’d help feed her. One day during their conversation, Grannie casually told my father: “I see Earline over there.”
My mother’s sister, who died of cancer years before. She never married and lived at home with Grannie.
Daddy, taken aback, asked, “Where is she?”
Grannie pointed. “Over there against the wall. Under the clock.”
There was a clock, in fact. High on the bare hospital wall.
Daddy said, “But . . . ”
Grannie cut him off. Looked him right in the eye: “I know she’s dead.”
Never one to tolerate fancies, my father asked, “Well, what does she look like?”
Grannie hesistated. Maybe grasping for words. “Kind of grave-y.”
A mere observation, without emotion or alarm. She may as well have been commenting on the weather or the hospital food.
I told this story when the topic came up with my friends, as we commiserated on watching our aged loved ones endure these haunting effects.
“It’s so strange,” said one friend, who has two relatives suffering with dementia. “Neither of them ever liked to eat eggs. Never in their whole lives. Now that’s all they ask for – Can you bring me some scrambled eggs? Run on over to IHOP and get me some eggs.”
I tried to recall if my grandmothers and mother-in-law made this request. But they’d all liked eggs; it wouldn’t have been unusual.
While my friends talked, I kept thinking There’s something to this egg thing.
It’s true that the tastes of dementia patients can change, that they sometimes develop cravings for things they never liked before. The answer could be that simple; eggs are a simple food.
They’re considered brain food. How interesting that a person succumbing to dementia should begin to crave them. Numerous articles on foods good for the brain reference choline, a nutrient found in egg yolks, that helps improve memory, brain cell communication, and even fetal brain development. Eggs are protein, the building block of the brain, the building block of life itself.
This is where I leap from the physical, the scientific, to the metaphysical. All around the world, since ancient times, the egg symbolizes life. In some belief systems, life-energy. An object small enough to hold in your hand, the egg represents the universe, health, nature awakening, new life about to emerge, immortality.
They may sense it, they may not, those whose brains are slowly giving way. Perhaps it is the final rallying cry of the brain alone, this impulse to eat eggs, in an effort to hold on, to carry on.
Can you please bring me some eggs?
Eating health, even as it ebbs away.
They are eating life.