“I dream about you,” Mom says to me. We are sitting together on the couch in the living room.
“Oh, really? What do you dream,” I ask.
“I dream you are with me, and when I wake up, I can’t remember if you’re here or not.”
“That must be hard to sort out,” I say, trying for empathy and understanding.
“You don’t know the half of it,” she says.
The summer I was 16, I was part of a program that tried to teach us what it was like to grow old. We wore glasses with Vaseline smeared on the lenses to limit our vision; plugged our ears with cotton to distort sound; tied thick blocks to our shoes to unbalance us. The effect was unnerving, as if only half our senses were working. We treated it like a game—after all, we were 16 and invincible. The social worker who ran the program also introduced us to John Prine’s “Hello in There,” a powerful song about aging and loneliness.
It must have had some impact, because I remember it vividly. And now that I’m older, I appreciate the idea of preparing ourselves for getting old. As our bodies change, so do our abilities. It seems to me that one of the hardest aspects of growing old is accepting our limitations. For example, I can no longer get the suitcase down from storage. My eyes tire from reading more easily now. Sometimes I have to stop reading and rest my eyes, even when I’m in the middle of an engaging chapter. And I wear multifocals!
Mom is constantly confused by the sights, sounds and conversations that swirl around her. She can’t keep up with even the simplest of arrangements. If Daddy has chores to do, Mom asks again and again where he’s going. If he says he’ll be back shortly, she starts to panic. If he leaves without her, she accuses him of abandoning her. “You’re dumping me here,” she cries.
As I’ve said previously, Mom’s Alzheimer’s demands that when I’m with her, I am 100% present. I am there to engage her, sing and dance (we danced today to the song, “The Cowboy and the Farmer Must be Friends,” from Oklahoma!), help her make tea, and anything else that she wants. Today we looked at her jewelry collection, all the wonderful things she never wears anymore because it is just too complicated to put on different earrings or necklaces.
These days, living in Israel, it’s hard to focus on the here and now. I have one ear cocked to the radio’s hourly news broadcasts, one eye raised to the TV or newspaper. I imagine it is much like having Alzheimer’s, this tantalizing sense of being present but not understanding fully what’s going on. Which reality is more pressing? Can we be in two places at once? For some of us, it is too frustrating to concentrate on more than one thing. We choose the simpler path.
If visiting Mom is like entering an alternative reality, it is one that can be rewarding. “You’re like a big bottle of medicine to make me better,” Mom says. I hide my tears as I kiss her goodbye.
Hot summer days are perfect for cool meals. Here’s my favorite soup recipe that can be served hot or cold.
The first few times I made soup, I was cautious. Did I really have the skills to make a decent soup? This is one of the first soups I tried, and I was thrilled by how simple it was. I happily passed along the recipe to my dad, and we made it together in their kitchen, too. If you want a lighter soup to eat as an appetizer, leave out the lentils.
1 large onion chopped
3 cloves garlic crushed
1 cup red lentils
1 large sweet potato chopped
4-5 carrots chopped
½ lb orange pumpkin chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tsp basil
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Water to cover (approximately 6 to 8 cups)
In a large pot, sauté onions and garlic. Add lentils. Stir. Add chopped vegetables and pour in enough water to just cover them. (For a thinner soup, add more water.) Add spices. Bring to a boil then simmer for up to an hour or until vegetables are soft. Remove bay leaves. Using a hand-held blender, blend the soup right in the pot. Can be served hot or cold.