Joy Gipple — A craving for a Denny’s meal offers a lesson in compassion

09/23/2013 1:57 PM

09/23/2013 1:57 PM

My father-in-law (FIL) came to live with us while recuperating from pneumonia. He was bedridden, and very ill, for the first couple of weeks, so my husband and I arranged our schedules so that one of us would be home with him at all times.

FIL’s illness affected many things, including his appetite and demeanor. Fearful of his feeble health, we were willing to go to great lengths to keep him nourished, comfortable and content.

At 7 a.m. one day when I was “on duty,” FIL requested and consumed a little breakfast. But he wouldn’t even sit up to eat, and he refused any more drinks, snacks or meals until around 3 p.m.

FIL: I’m hungry now.

Me: Great! You’re getting your appetite back! What would you like to eat today?

FIL: Oh I know exactly what I want and it’s gotta be Denny’s. I want the country-fried steak — it’s on the back page of the menu, on the senior side — with mashed potatoes and gravy and corn, and it comes with two eggs over easy.

Me: I don’t have a Denny’s here, so what’s your second choice?

FIL: You don’t have Denny’s restaurants in Kansas City?

Me: We just don’t have any in Shawnee.

FIL: Well, that’s all I want today. That’s the only thing.

Me: I will have to find out where a Denny’s is near here.

FIL: I want it good and hot.

Me: Mike may be able to stop at a Denny’s on the way home from work. What would you like in the meantime?

FIL: Denny’s.

Me: How about something else to tide you over?

FIL: Denny’s.

Me: I don’t want you to starve before Mike gets home.

FIL: Denny’s.

Me: It might be another three hours.

FIL: Denny’s. country-fried steak, mashed potatoes, double gravy, corn, two eggs over easy.

Me: How about some applesauce or a milkshake?

FIL: Denny’s.

Me: How about a pork rib? Jell-o?

FIL: Denny’s.

At that point, I phoned FIL’s order to my husband and took FIL a can of strawberry nutritional supplement, with a straw. He quickly sucked down the beverage.

I also posted a summary of our unfolding Denny’s drama on Facebook and immediately received encouraging words and offers to help.

Me: Mike said he’d try to stop by Denny’s on the way home.

FIL: It also comes with a side salad. I want double Italian dressing with it. I think it’s $8.99.

I was surprised when my husband showed up, Denny’s order in hand, shortly thereafter. Unbeknownst to me, FIL had confided the night before that when it came time for his “last meal” he wanted — you guessed it — Denny’s country-fried steak, mashed potatoes, corn .... and so my husband was thinking that this was it, the last meal.

FIL sat right up in his bed and proceeded to wolf down the food. His only remark: This Italian dressing is not very cold.

I learned a lot about caregiving that day, including:

1) When you don’t feel well, it’s hard to be nice. Lest you think that I’m complaining about FIL’s demands, that is not the case. FIL was sick. He was physically miserable, mentally confused and emotionally anguished. I can relate to that. When I am sick, I sometimes get a little crabby. And OK, maybe a little histrionic.

Several years ago, sick in bed with a respiratory virus, I called my four kids in, one by one, to say my goodbyes and quote them each a Bible verse to cling to after I departed. And that was only the flu! FIL was much worse off, and much less dramatic.

2) Support is out there. Wonderful comments poured in for days after the country-fried steak saga was posted. It was gratifying to realize that all I have to do is ask.

3) It takes discretion to determine when to bend over backwards and when to stand firm. But when in doubt, let compassion prevail.

Sure enough, as his health improved, so did FIL’s disposition. After he regained some mobility, he wanted to take us out to supper. So one evening we loaded FIL and his walker into the car.

The restaurant had easy access, an open table and a friendly waitress. While we waited for our food, my husband and I recounted the country-fried steak story to FIL, who remembered nothing about it, and we all had a good laugh.

Then we proceeded to wolf down our meals. From the senior menu. At FIL’s favorite restaurant. You guessed it. Denny’s.

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