It is said in the spiritual traditions of India, as they are commonly practised that
1. Whatever one’s last thoughts at the hour of death in this life. They will manifest themselves in the next life.
2. One’s last thoughts are the sum total of all that one has desired, enjoyed and suffered during this life.
It is therefore always advised that one not have to die harbouring unfulfilled desires if they can be fulfilled harmlessly and ethically before one’s death.
For this reason, the loving ones and relatives almost invariably ask a dying person questions like:
1. Is there anything you desire at this time?
2. Is there someone you want to see?
3. Is there something you want to eat?
Some years back in the Chattisgarh state of India when the Naxalite Maoists stopped the caravan of a politician to kill him, they taunted: Anything you want to eat?!!
I believe similar is the case in Indian prisons where a prisoner about to be hanged is asked the same question and is provided whatever he wishes to eat in his last meal.
What determines the last desire(s) is a question full of complexity. Who knows why one wants to see only that one special child, or wants to eat papaya before dying. From when the seed of such desire lay hidden in him cannot be determined.
This also has another dimension. The Gurus are known to fulfil a disciple’s remaining desires before making him enter Samadhi so that these desires would not frustrate his internal journey. A great deal can be written or said about this fact.
The last minute desires of a dying person are quite intense in spite of the body’s feebleness. The unfulfilled desires will migrate as part of his intense samskaras and form themes for his next life. A child may be born with intense desire for some kinds of foods and so on.
The very verb for ‘eating’ in Sanskrit incorporates a whole order of mental connections. The same verb ‘bhuj’ is used for
2. enjoying anything,
3. sexual congress,
4. any experience with the senses,
5. making a food offering in worship (bhog lagaanaa),
6. suffering or enjoying the results of an act (tum ne aisaa kiyaa, ab bhogo!) or karma (karma-bhoga).
I may be missing out on some connections here. Thus ‘giving food’ or ‘eating’ psychologically and karmically covers a whole wide range of mental and physical involvements.
There is a very solid base in the Indian custom in the realms of samskara-psychology. It is best not to bind the soul in this way before sending it on to its journey; hence the custom of asking.