Saturday, August 25, 2012

“Counting Calories”

         In our household, counting calories has taken on a totally new meaning. Dieting by Lean Cuisine has never appealed to me, and I preferred to watch the types of food I eat over the calorie count they may contain. Recent events, though, have us scouring the food aisles for products giving us the highest calories possible.
         Last year, I never worried about Mom’s weight. She ate three meals a day and snacked on pudding, cookies, candy, brownies, ice cream and colas. She nibbled on this-n-that all day long. Her chorea meant she burned most of the food she ate, so even though she took in about 3,000 to 5,000 calories a day, her weight stayed steady at 135 to 145.
         Six months ago, mom started fatiguing when she fed herself. She’d start a meal and then shove aside her bowl before finishing. She’d insist that she was done—that she was full. I would try to coax her to eat a few more bites, but she would insist that I take her away from the table. Her weight didn’t change much, though, because she continued to snack from the wide variety I kept in her tin.
         Within the last two months, Mom could no longer feed herself. She simply didn’t have the muscle strength for a meal. One of us now sits in front of her and prompts her to open her mouth. We watch and wait for her signal before we put another portion into her mouth. She’s still able to eat her favorite foods, and very few things have to be run through the blender, but meals take longer.
         I didn’t pick up on Mom’s weight loss immediately. Like many things, it happened so gradually that one day as I pulled up her Depends I noticed she’d lost shape in her legs, thighs, and butt. I decided to really watch her throughout the day, and noticed that she wasn’t reaching for her tin any more. I realized that she wasn’t getting any of those extra calories that she packs into her day with Kit Kats and miniature Milky Ways.  She didn’t pick up her mug to sip her sodas, either.
         Belatedly, it dawned on me that I needed to ply Mom with her snacks all day long because she no longer initiates eating them. Over the last few days, I’ve lingered on the couch next to her.
         “Mom, would you like a piece of candy?” I ask now. Then I take a piece from her tin and offer it to her. Sometimes, she will grab the chocolate and eat it. Sometimes I break off a piece and pop it into her mouth. She’s an eager bird, rarely turning down an offer of muffin or cookie.
         Because Mom tires as the day progresses, I have shifted giving her high calorie foods in the mornings. Instead of her two scrambled eggs and a Boost, I started giving her a Boost milkshake with tons of ice cream and whipped cream. She downed a muffin yesterday that contained 360 calories. I added butter and sour cream to every dish served, too.
         It’s too early to tell if these changes have made a difference in Mom’s weight, but she does seem more alert. Perhaps some of her recent bad days resulted from a lack of energy from not enough food. Time will tell.  

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Our Shelter From the Storm"

          The late afternoon sky darkened as gray clouds scuttled across the sun. The calm, hot air pressed down upon me like a woolen blanket, and a film of perspiration glazed my skin as I perched on the top step of our porch. The front screen door swung open and slapped shut as Charlie bounded out of the house like a wide-eyed and excited puppy. His little three-year-old body hunched down next to me, and I inhaled the sweetness of his youth.
          Casually, I slung my arm around Charlie’s shoulders, and he tucked in closely to me. In those few seconds, the temperature noticeably dropped a few degrees. A breeze rifled through the leaves of the ancient gnarled oak that towered across the street. A sharp, metallic scent enveloped us, and a chill swept over me.
          “Storm’s comin’,” murmured Charlie.
           “Good!” he smiled and shifted from his squat, splaying his little feet out before him.
          The tiny hairs on my arms pricked to attention as the wind picked up. The clouds overhead deepened from their soft gray to a harsh charcoal. Thunderheads boiled and bubbled; and thunder, sounding in the distance, rumbled closer with each passing minute. A faint scent of popcorn wafted through our front screen door.
"The Storm" by David Chapman
           One enormous drop of rain plopped on the side walk. Then another. And another. And another. The heavy smell of dust mingled with the green scent of freshly mowed grass. As lightning cut a jagged ridge across the darkening sky, Mom and Paula stepped out of the house and “oohed” at nature’s fireworks. Charlie and I scooted over to squeeze Paula in next to us since she hugged a huge Tupperware of popcorn to her chest. Mom leaned against the porch’s post and turned her face to the fine spray that misted up from the nearby gardenias.
I dipped my eager fingers into the overflowing bowl and pulled out a huge handful of the warm treat. Without a word, I offered Charlie the popcorn. His small hand filled with only five pieces; he sighed in buttery contentment.
           Together we viewed the magnificence of the storm. We murmured our appreciation of the show, and thought of the war in a distant land that displayed its power and destruction on the evening news. My thoughts went to Dad, so far away in his own storm, and I moved closer to Paula for her warmth.
We nestled safe and dry in our shelter from the storm.

Copyright 1995 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Thursday, August 23, 2012

“Ice Sculpture”

         Every day, I try to imagine the final months with my mother’s decline. In a way, running through this scenario protects me from drowning in daily grief. I tell myself that she hasn’t entered the finals stages of Huntington’s disease. Things will progress to a different level eventually, so I should feel grateful relief that Mom’s surrender into this disease moves so slowly.
         When trying to describe Mom’s illness, I floundered for the precise metaphor until the other night. My mother is a wonderful, beautiful, unique ice sculpture. Her strength and courage, carved in cold crystalline perfection, gleams. Light reflects and refracts from her surface and shimmers with splendidly unexpected shine. The striking sculpture, though, cannot last. Hour by hour delicate and almost imperceptible changes occur. A first droplet manages to roll unnoticed down her leg. Then another trails down her throat. Before long, a small pool of my mother’s essence forms around her. She slowly shrinks in size—not just her physical body, but the spirit within her fades. Her personality retreats into the core so deeply that we have to search for her heart and soul.
We stand by helplessly as she melts.

Michael Gottschalk/AFP/Getty Images

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


         I grabbed my spiral notebook yesterday with the intention of writing something spectacular. The blank page pulsed with emptiness. After a few minutes, I wrote the word “Blocked” across the top, believing that by labeling my affliction, I would begin the process of overcoming it.
         No other words followed. I left pen angled across the page, hoping that seeing the two paired together on the coffee table would trigger some inner well of creativity, and words would flow forth effortlessly.
         Nothing happened.
         Not a single word.
         I don’t know why my ideas and thoughts ram against this invisible wall. In my mind, I see them ebbing and flowing. I stand on a precipice, watching my words undulate in silent waves. They never reach the shore.
         So this morning, instead of taking pen and paper in hand, I pull up Word. The curser’s insistent blink-blink-blink-blink challenges me. I type the single word, “Blocked” again, centered perfectly on the page.
         And words push through the water’s rolling surface.
         Not perfect.
         But there.

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman