Loss of appetite: is it the end?

My 82-year-old grandfather has stopped eating in the last couple of weeks, and has lost about 20 lbs. He has advanced pneumonia and bed sores. Is his loss of appetite on purpose, because he’s ready to go, or should we still try to make him eat? He made it clear in his power of attorney that he doesn’t want any drastic measures taken, such as a feeding tube.
Wanting to Do The Right Thing

Dear Wanting,
Your grandfather obviously wanted you to know his wishes for his end times, because of his power of attorney instruction. With that in mind, it is important to make certain he is comfortable and knows how much you care about him in his time of illness. I would be surprised if he was not eating “on purpose,” as if he were intentionally trying to die. The body shuts down naturally, and that will often come to pass by naturally decreasing the desire for food and liquid intake. While I honestly don’t think it is possible to make someone eat, it is wise to offer food and liquids – especially some of his favorite things. If he eats or drinks it, fine; if not, that’s fine too.

Hospice is a truly wonderful and beneficial program for people like your grandfather. I would suggest that you ask you physician about hospice and get involved with that program. They can make certain your grandfather is comfortable and will serve as both a medical support system for him, and as a spiritual/counseling support for you in this time of decision, loss and grief.

Spend quality time with your grandfather, hold his hand. If you had favorite songs together, play the music and possibly even sing along. Talk to him, even if he doesn’t respond, and tell him all the things that made him special to you. Thank him for being in your life and tell him how much you love him. Sometimes it is comforting to stroke his arm or his forehead, you can usually tell by his body language if this touch is being well received. Concentrate on the good things in your life together.