This morning, I decide to break my own routine. I’ve been avoiding sugar and dairy as penance for the overindulgence of the holidays and as a kind of New Year’s cleanse, starting my mornings with a shake made from nuts, seeds, coconut oil, avocado, almond butter and berries. My mother would have hated it. I can see her now, wrigging up her face and saying, “ick.”
My mother’s favorite meal of the day was breakfast. Every day for the last ten years of her life, she’s had eggs and bacon, toast and coffee. Mid-morning snack was always Cheerios with lots of sugar. The most sensual food experience—bar none–has to be buttered toast swirled in a golden yolk. There’s a luxuriousness to the fats—butter blending with the curd like yolk—that lights up the taste buds and the brain. I learned this pleasure from my mother, who ate her eggs this way, though her buttoned-down Midwestern sensibility would never allow her to cop to the sheer decadence of the act.
Oh, but she loved it.
Nearly every morning for the last two years, I called mom during breakfast at the long term care facility where she’s been living on hospice, essentially waiting to die. “What’s for breakfast?” I’d ask, as a way of making conversation. In the last year especially, mom’s ability to find words and to speak clearly has been impaired by a series of strokes and increasing weakness caused by a giant brain aneurysm. When she couldn’t find the words, I’d fill them in. “Eggs?” I’d ask, “And what else?” There would be toast and bacon and cheerios or pancakes or French toast—and she’d eat it all. My mother was the happiest in these moments, calling out “Hi, Sweetie” while eating familiar food that pleased her.
Her medical condition had caused enough dementia that she existed in a kind of pleasantly confused present. She didn’t complain, except to wonder when her next meal would be. “I’m still hungry,” she’d say and I would promise to bring her cupcakes or remind her that I’d just left some near her bed.
Next to breakfast, it was sugar for my mom. In her last weeks, she wasn’t interested even in that: it was too hard to swallow. And so I began bringing Pepsi.
By the time mom could only assent to a bit of Pepsi sipped through a straw, I knew we had finally arrived at the end of long long road.
I’ve had a long time to prepare for my mother’s passing. Still, the end was a shock. A familiar part of my life and daily routine is gone: My mom and I no longer share breakfast together.
So, instead, I fry two egg sunny side up, in a pan of bubbling butter, sprinkling them with salt and cracked pepper. Then I lay a piece of toast thick with butter and poke the yolks gently until they release onto the plate. I use the bread to soak up yolk and egg and think of mom.
She would love it.