The problem: My proud mother, who is in her 80s, loves to cook for her family. The trouble is, we’ve all experienced some nasty effects from her cooking but are afraid to say anything for fear we’ll hurt her feelings. Quite simply, I don’t trust her cooking anymore. Should I say something? If so, what?

Low road: Hand her the family’s pile of emergency room bills. At least you got a group rate.

High road: There’s a lot going on here besides undercooked meatloaf. Your mom is aging, as you know, and with aging often comes a surge in gratitude and self-awareness, but also a million tiny insults that weigh on one’s psyche. A body that hurts. Diminishing eyesight and hearing. Stairs too dangerous to navigate. A car forever parked in the garage.

For many elderly, the world just gets smaller and smaller. The wisest hold on to what is most dear, which is often one’s family and the rich traditions that help define it. Your mother found joy in cooking for her clan. But she’s likely not paying as much attention as she once did to basic food safety.

This is a sign that you and your siblings should check in more regularly, to make sure her world is safe in all sorts of ways, from stairs to her bathroom to the stove. I would not, however, decline her generous offer to cook. I would simply modify the recipe. Suggest that, to make these gatherings easier and more fun, you will all pitch in with a potluck.

Even better, if you can carve out the time, consider rotating with your family members to cook with her. By doing so, you can subtly oversee safety, study the recipes she treasures and give her what she craves most, which is quality time with you.


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