Printable Form

"Soup Stock"
by Maryjo Faith Morgan

Rita whispered in my ear as I came in the kitchen door, “Pearl hasn’t eaten all day, can barely sit up, but wants to just rock.” She anticipated my next question as she slipped into her coat, “No, she’s not in her rocker. I insisted she take a nap in bed.” Rita patted my arm as she left, “Take over, Kiddo.” Disheartened, I doubted I’d get a chance to study this shift.

No one spoke the “C” word out loud; not even Pearl’s doctor discussed it with her. In the 1960’s this was typical; people believed shielding the patient from the truth allowed them hope and peace. At that time chemo and radiation were still in their infancy and gave little chance for remission. Morphine was ultimately the compassionate solution. Hospice didn’t yet exist, so family and friends shouldered the day to day in-home care of the terminally ill.

Pearl had a constant stream of those willing to do whatever was needed. Often they sat at the kitchen table visiting with each other after “their turn” was over, reminiscing about better days when Pearl had been healthy and active.

I entered her dim room. Pale twilight shown faintly through the closed blinds; I shivered, leaned over her to switch on the soft light of the bedside lamp, and murmured into her ear, “Hey there, Pearly-May. You’re stuck with me now.”

A weak smile flickered across her face at the nickname, and she proffered her cheek for a kiss.
“Did you have a nice rest?”

Pearl didn’t acknowledge my question, just closed her eyes.

I continued, “You know I can hardly boil water, but it is so cold today … I’d hoped maybe you’d help me make a pot of soup for your family’s dinner. It will make the house smell good, don’t you think?”

She opened her eyes and nodded, looking up at me. “Cold, eh?” Her voice cracked with the effort – phlegmy like morning voice, but worse.

I fluffed her pillows and nudged her up into a seated position, “It sure is. Even though I was wearing my mittens, a hat and a scarf, I’m chilled to the bone.” I touched my icy fingers to her wrist, “See?” She didn’t pull away – not a good sign.

“Now, about that soup. You’ve got to help me make it the way you do, or no one will eat it.” I raised my eyebrows at her, and her eyes crinkled slightly. “I’ve already put the chicken and celery in the pot.”

I sighed to myself knowing it’d be a task to get through the recipe. “What else should I put in?” Rasping, she went through her list of ingredients, then added, “Don’t forget the pastina. They like pastina.”

“OK, I’ll get the soup simmering. Anything else?”

She didn’t answer, but simply closed her eyes. I took that for a no.

Soon the soup was bubbling on the stove, filling the house with tantalizing aromas and making the kitchen windows sweat. I congratulated myself. Pearl’s homemade soup would be perfect for a bitter cold day like today. A house is homier with good smells, a real pick-me-up when you opened the door, and this family could sure use that.

One by one they came into the kitchen, hungry and ready to eat. I set out their dinner, then hurried to get a tray ready for Pearl.

I saw her nose take in the soup before she opened her eyes. “It smells just like mine.” She propped herself up but grimaced at the steaming bowl. “Oh my. Carrots. Can’t chew.”

I scooted back to the kitchen and mashed the carrots into fine little bits.

Pearl’s husband nodded as he watched the process, “That’s a good idea. If she chokes on anything, it’ll trigger a coughing spell.”

I took the soup back into the bedroom but Pearl eyed the bowl suspiciously. She was about to say something when a fit of coughing seized her. Her eyes bulged as she brought up a copious amount of phlegm. When I heard the kitchen chairs scrape, I hurried to the hall and soundlessly waved off the help. I’d rather have assistance when she was hallucinating from the morphine, not just for this. Pearl swallowed the soothing spoonful of honey mixed with lemon I gave her very carefully. I could hear the sounds of eating resume out in the kitchen again; everything seemed back to normal.

“Your soup has gotten cold. I’ll warm it up.”

Pearl barely nodded.

I ladled a fresh one and headed back to her room. This time she shook her head, “Too much,” and pushed away the tray.

Pearl’s husband didn’t look surprised when I returned with the full bowl of soup but frowned when I dragged the stool over to the cupboard. “I’ve got an idea,” I explained as I climbed up to reach the top shelf for an elegant bowl edged in fine gold. He chuckled and grinned at me. “Go ahead, try! That’s the only piece left from her mother’s china …”

I took the full bowl of soup from the tray and poured its entire contents into the china bowl I’d just retrieved. The soup didn’t fill the larger china bowl and in fact, looked like a skimpy portion in it.

Pearl sat up slightly when I came back into the room and set the tray before her. She took a sip from the spoonful I offered, weakly blowing on it even though she’d seen me cool it in the same manner. After the third spoonful she took the utensil from my hand. Barely above a whisper I heard, “This is Nana’s bowl.”

Trying not to jump for joy, I fluttered my fingers at her as I left her room. “Looks like you’ve got things under control here. Ring your bell when you’re finished.” She nodded slightly, never looking up from her soup.

My jubilation made cleaning up joyous, then I went to get her tray. Pearl lay back on the pillows, sound asleep. The only soup in sight was what had dribbled on her chin. I fished the spoon from among her tangled covers and wiped her face gently. Her eyes swam, then focused on me and the meds I was handing her. When I turned back from marking the chart, she was already dozing again. I smoothed her hair, put her rosary in her hand and reached to switch off her light. From the corner of my eye I saw her husband standing in the shadowy doorway. He came in and squeezed my shoulder.

“Go ahead, it’s my shift now.” Reluctant to leave her I lingered, lightly caressing her hand. “You did a great job tonight. I can’t believe you got her to eat that whole bowl of soup!”
Looking up into his worry-line face I smiled my strongest smile. “Thanks, Daddy.”

A few weeks later Maryjo’s mother passed peacefully after saying night prayers with her beloved husband Joseph Costanzo. Soon thereafter he nick-named Maryjo his little chief-cook-and-bottle-washer, a title she wore like a medal of honor. She can be reached at