Dad’s gone; time for Chinese food!
BY SUE ONTIVEROS firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @sueontiveros June 14, 2013 7:52PM
Updated: July 17, 2013 6:47AM
‘It’s a good day for Chinese food for lunch,” my dad pronounced.
Never mind that this phone request to my sister was taking place and the sun wasn’t even up. Chinese food was on his mind, and in a big way. Soon as possible, he had to have it.
There’s not a whole lot to laugh about when you’re watching your father die of cancer, especially in those last weeks. You witness a once strong body grow too weak to even stand unassisted, see an independent man who was always on the go now confined to spending his days in a solitary room.
But the multiple requests for Chinese food never ceased to make me laugh for one simple reason: He never ate Chinese food before!
I thought I knew everything about my dad and food favorites: sardines on Saltines. A good corned beef sandwich, the way they used to make them on 87th Street. Lamb chops, nuts and popcorn.
So at first the Chinese food requests stumped me. When did this obsession with Chinese food begin?
“Six weeks ago,” my sister explained. She’d brought it to him on a lark, hoping to wake up his taste buds. Boy, did she!
On a day off I brought Chinese food over. This is how unfamiliar he was with it: His request was for the “chicken-like dumplings” in “that sauce.” (Translation: sweet and sour chicken.)
That day I thought he’d enjoy having a chance to share a meal with my sister and me. But instead of him joining our conversation with mom, he seemed lost in those “dumplings.” It was as if he were in another place, maybe one where he was back in control and he could call the shots as he just had, even if it was only lunch. He was transported by something enjoyable in a life that was running short on happy moments.
We tried to make sense of it. “We call that crazy eating,” one nurse said. It never seems to have anything to do with nutrients needed, according to experts I spoke to and Internet searches, but it’s not uncommon. Cancer patients talk online about newfound cravings for Pop-Tarts, cherries, hummus.
Dad’s food jags didn’t end with Chinese food. Tomato soup — again, something he never ate before — became a lunchtime favorite, with — get this — the shrimp from leftover fried rice tossed in for extra oomph.
As the disease steamrolls on, you realize you’re not going to change the approaching outcome, so you do what you can, however small, for your loved one.
So he’d ask and someone would go on a hunt for the food of the moment. Sweet rolls from Calumet Bakery, a Southeast Side treasure, one day. Menudo, which some think has healing powers, another early morning. “Sure thing, anything, Pops,” always was the answer. And oh gosh, he was just so grateful that his food craving was being satisfied. He’d grab your hand, look at your face as if trying to memorize it for later, and say his thanks.
Once your dad’s gone like mine is, every commercial, every mention of Father’s Day is like someone jabbing your heart.
So I might need a laugh today. Think I’ll get some of those “chicken dumplings” to cheer me up. With “that sauce,” of course.