This post originally appeared at Talk Poverty.
Last week, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney defended the Trump administration’s proposal to cut funding for Meals on Wheels by arguing that the program is “just not showing any results.”
That claim is objectively false.
Meals on Wheels serves more than 2 million seniors every year who aren’t able to shop and cook for themselves. Research on home-delivered meal programs shows that they improve diet, nutrition and quality of life, and reduce food insecurity among participants. In short, when seniors get meals, they’re healthier. My casual field research — otherwise known as every conversation I’ve ever had with my grandparents — also backs this up. If you don’t feel well, you should eat something.
I’m guessing, based on Mulvaney’s argument that cutting the program’s funding is the “compassionate” thing to do, that he hasn’t watched someone nearly die from malnutrition. But I have.
My grandmother had the dubious honor of being the only person to check into her hospice house two separate times.
The second time she was admitted, she spent a month fighting off the beleaguered staff’s attempts at kindness while she settled into an uncharacteristically peaceful death. She wasn’t an easy woman to care for during her life, and she wasn’t any different when she was dying. Once, when a hospice worker took her outside to spend some time in the sun, she dismissed the house’s small garden as “prissy bullshit.” When a volunteer dropped a curler during an attempt to wash and set her hair, she snapped that she “didn’t have that much time left and didn’t want to waste it fumbling around.” When a grief counselor asked her what she’d miss about her life, she answered, “gimlets and a fucking cigarette.”
We held her memorial service in the same room that she died in — another first for the house’s staff. When the nurse leading the service offered us the opportunity to share a warm memory about her life, we all shifted uncomfortably in our seats as we struggled to think of one. My aunt finally broke the silence with a long story about my grandmother’s legendarily mean tortoiseshell cat, Cleo, who lashed out at anyone within striking distance.
My aunt didn’t mention her plan to have Cleo euthanized shortly after the service.
Two years earlier, when my grandmother was admitted to that hospice the first time, she only stayed for two weeks. What we had been convinced were signs that she was nearing death — exhaustion, weakness, confusion — turned out to be malnutrition. After a few healthy meals, they sent her back home, and we made sure someone went to her trailer at least once a day to check that she ate and to ration out just enough scotch to keep her withdrawal tremors at bay.
My grandma survived those two years between hospice stays because my aunts split up the responsibility of taking care of her. If they hadn’t been able to do that, I can only hope that Meals on Wheels would have been around to help her before she slipped back to the place where hunger made it impossible to finish a sentence, or stand up from the kitchen table or put in her dentures.
In other words, I hope Meals on Wheels would have been there to show a mean old lady some compassion.