words and images by mk swanson
The Last Pleasure

The Last Pleasure

Eating is the very first and last pleasure our animal nature experiences. Babies cry at birth and are quieted with milk. You know it’s time to let go of the family dog when he no longer wants to eat.

Far from a mindless sensation of hunger, though, eating at the end of life seems to come as a celebration of physicality. It wasn’t gluttony that prompted my tiny 91-year-old aunt, dying of liver cancer, to reply to an offer of food with “I could eat.”

Sitting with my old cat who was dying, I was surprised every time by her enthusiasm for a bowl of food. She needed water, but she would reject that until a spoonful of canned nibbles would draw her out. Then she would eat with all the vigor of her long-ago kitten self.

One more bowlful of life for me.

What leads us to taste a final forkful even when we know it’s the end? The calories we consume may not even be burned. Some would say it is our Darwinian nature driving us to live, although the end is inevitable, even welcome. This portrays dying as the winding down of a worn out mechanism, and our final days its hopeless sputter.

Our consciousness of enjoyment, and our pursuit of it even when things we need to survive hold no temptation, point to something else.

If we were attempting to survive past our sell-by date, we would long for water, yearn for adrenaline, beg for anything that would keep us alive another day.

But instead, a soul seems to say goodbye to embodiment the same way it said hello: by eating.