Meals on Wheels

November 13, 2007 at 5:28 pm (Uncategorized)

When I was a child, my Grandma and Grandpa Y. were very involved in the Meals on Wheels program. Once a week, they brought hot meals to shut-ins and invalids in Chicago. As a ten-year-old, I was fairly unimpressed with their efforts. I mean, delivering food is nice and all, but hardly glamorous. Now, I’d like to bop my ten-year self on the head for such arrogance and short-sightedness. There’s nothing like becoming a quasi-invalid and shut-in to teach me how heroic a dinner deliverer can be.

Putting food on the table is one thing I’m having a hard time doing these days. I can’t drive, which makes it difficult to go grocery shopping. I can’t walk, so even if I caught a ride to Safeway, it would be challenging to try to push my scooter and a grocery cart simultaneously. My husband, Jay, could hoof it to the store, but he’s been working long hours and has been on the road for his job. But even assuming groceries magically appeared on the kitchen counter, I can’t stand and cook. My scooter supports my broken foot and casted leg, but it’s not designed for ease of use in whipping up dinner. For instance, the other day when I was hauling carrots out of the fridge, I rolled over my own foot not once, but twice. Jay is a capable cook, but when he’s late at the office (like he has been most nights), he’s not able to get dinner on the table until Andrew’s bed time.

We haven’t been going hungry, of course. One of the benefits of living in a fast-food culture is that it’s easy to pick up pizza or burgers. But, we’ve got a three-year old at home, and there’s only so many times in a week I can call Dominoes without feeling guilty about the lack of nutrition I’m providing. Plus there’s so much media coverage lately about the role of early childhood eating habits in a person’s future health. With Andrew’s every bite of greasy burgers, I picture his arteries clogging, his blood sugar spiking, and I foresee an obese twelve year-old, lumbering between the sofa and the refrigerator. (Hey, I never said I wasn’t a drama queen – even in my fanciful dystopia)

When you get diagnosed with a chronic illness, you never imagine the kinds of new challenges that will come your way. It’s common sense to worry about medications and prognoses, but you would never predict fretting about your son’s waistline twelve years from now or about the likelihood of balancing on your one good foot to make dinner. But — as I’m sure other folks in chronic town will attest — it’s the little things that get you every time. The worst aspects of my illness, in terms of daily life, haven’t been the cardiac manifestations of my sarcoidosis. No, it’s been my crappy broken foot (that steadfastly refuses to heal) that has made getting around impossible and life feel almost unbearable.

Just when I hit what felt like a new low point, my cousin Susan called with an offer of help. She didn’t just ask me a vague, “Is there anything I can do?” or tell me that “I sure wish I lived closer.” Instead, she said that she wanted either to come out and cook and clean for us for a week, or she wanted to order some ready-made meals and have them delivered to our door. Susan’s generosity, especially in terms of traveling here, was doubly amazing, given that she has a host of health problems that make mine look trivial, along with a husband, two kids, and a house of her own. Jay and I talked and decided that because of my sister’s ongoing generosity in paying to have our house cleaned, our biggest challenge was simply in feeding ourselves. As much as we would have loved to see Susan (even though she lives on one of the dense and dark streets in chronic town, she is always able to see something funny and redeeming in a bad situation), we would take her up on the offer for meals.

The spirit of my grandparents lives on in Susan. We expected a couple of dinners. Instead, she and her husband Richard ordered us a month’s worth of pre-cooked, healthy food. No more burgers and pizzas for a while. They got us so much stuff they had to split the delivery in two. And we’re talking about meals that make my stomach rumble in anticipation just thinking about them: stuffed sole, penne with sausage, caramel apple tarts, sesame chicken. I know food like this doesn’t come cheap, and I also know that she invested hours in choosing the right entrees, arranging the delivery, and consulting with me. Her kindness has taken my breath away. It’s almost as if Grandma and Grandpa Y. have pulled up in their silver Oldsmobile, bearing trays of good food.

Susan’s greatest gift was letting Jay and Andrew and I know that we are not alone in this trying time. And my cousin isn’t the only one who has seemed more like an angel than a relative. Our lives overflow with good deeds, kindness, and generosity from our families, our friends, and even friends of friends – like the housecleaning from my sister; the seventeen frozen dinners my mother and father left us with; the loans from Jay’s father; the help with childcare from Jay’s mother; the novels that a friend of my sister-in-law sent me a while ago because she heard “I was the kind of person cheered up by books” and knew I was having a tough time; the kind and tear-provoking card from my other sister-in-law wanting me to know I was in her thoughts; the car my brother gave us; the Netflix subscription my friend Amy gave us yesterday; the dozens of dinners our Helena friends Martha and Geoff have made for us (not to mention Geoff’s on-site plumbing and carpentry work); my friend Roberta offering to do healing work; my massage therapist telling me she would work on my knotted neck for free (“I just want you to feel better”), as well as delivering lentil soup and an air filter to my door; my friend Molly driving me everywhere and even sitting with me in the ER… Sometimes I think I should be a whole lot sicker to justify the outpouring of goodness and help that we receive.

“We are so lucky,” Jay said, after I told him about Susan and Richard’s gift to us. That we are. From Susan – and from so many others – we’ve been given what my grandparents brought to those without hope and without dinner in Chicago. We’ll have full bellies, warmth in our hearts, and help when we feel helpless.

2 Comments

  1. Angela Solomon said,

    I’ve read a few of your posts & am moved. I developed rheumatoid arthritis at age 20. Surprise! I used to run 5Ks and play the piano (music major). And, no, I don’t have the “minor” aches and pains soothed by a couple of Advil. When I first developed RA at college, I continued trying to care for myself, poorly I might add. I finally acquiesced to arthritis when my weight dropped below 100 because I didn’t have the energy to fix myself a simple sandwich. I moved home with mommy (little sarcasm there). I’m now 39 with three kids of my own, hands that look more like claws & a hip that needs replaced if I can ever reduce my 15 mg of daily prednisone. After nearly 20 years of practice I’m generally happy, though I’ve held my own sob-fests. However, I don’t pretend to know what you’re experiencing. I’m glad you have family & friends like those you’ve written about. You have a wonderful way with words. Thanks for letting me go on & on…that wasn’t my original intent.

  2. Susan said,

    Becky,

    I’m so honored and happy that you are accepting our help. It makes us feel so good that we are able to help. It is a gift that I can give that is helpful to your family. It is the hards to learn to accept help from others. This is one of the best thing to do for others! You are an incredible person to get going through are the challenges that lay before you! You are a true inspiration to people!

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