When I first started visiting my parents each week, my goals were to spend time with Mom and give my dad a break from caring for her. Mom was—and still is—great fun to be with. She breaks out in song at the most amusing times. She smiles and laughs at my corny jokes and often makes some of her own. She comments on everything and everyone she sees. Today, for example, when she saw a scantily clad young woman, she turned to me and whispered, “That girl forgot to get dressed this morning.”
When I would leave, Daddy would bustle in the kitchen making dinner, and, together, as they’d done for more than 50 years, they’d spend the evening in companionable activities.
This week, my parents celebrated their 53rd anniversary. As they sat in a restaurant to celebrate, Daddy realized that one of the consequences of Mom’s Alzheimer’s is that he is lonely.
What happens when your life partner can no longer carry on a conversation, or remember the highlights of your intimate marriage? What happens when your intellectual curiosity is no longer supported and your interests become yours alone? How do you go out to dinner to celebrate your special day when she doesn’t even remember it’s your anniversary—or even that you are her spouse and not her parent?
September happens to be a big month for celebrations in our family. My husband Jeff and I celebrated our 24th anniversary. We bought each other small gifts, exchanged heartfelt cards, and then went off to work. My son and his wife, newly married six months ago, are finally on their honeymoon. They don’t need much to amuse themselves beyond their luxurious hotel room. (I hope I don’t embarrass them by writing that, but young love is so intense and inwardly focused.) And then there are my parents, still going strong in a loving, lopsided relationship. Three generations of couples.
Being with my parents on my anniversary made me realize that my visits have changed focus. One goal is still to spend time with Mom and enjoy each other’s company as long as we can. (Today she asked me where Miriam was while I was standing right next to her. I am slowly being erased from her memory.)
The other goal is to support my dad. He is on the front lines of this illness, and as Mom’s primary caretaker, he needs and deserves my support and attention. He, too, must reevaluate his situation and carve as much time from the day as he can for his own activities. This means leaving Mom in the care of others, which unsettles her and makes her tense. And angry. Very angry. Her only desire these days is to be in the company of my dad. She is like a sweet, loving puppy dog that follows its owner everywhere.
It is with renewed intensity that I visit my parents. Perhaps the comfort I bring for a few hours each week is enough. I know I am privileged to be able to celebrate the ups—and downs—with my loving family.
I can’t believe that Rosh Hashana is two weeks away! This year, we have a three-day holiday because the end of Rosh Hashana morphs right into the start of Shabbat. In the spirit of a sweet and fruitful New Year, here’s a tasty rice salad recipe that incorporates pomegranates.
Rice Salad with Cashews and Pomegranates
Taking out the seeds from a pomegranate can be a messy affair. We were delighted to discover a low-tech pomegranate seeder in the stores here a few years ago. Cut the fruit in half, place it seed-side down on a small strainer or plastic grid that fits into a small bowl, and bang with a hammer. The seeds fall right into the bowl. It is said that each pomegranate contains 613 seeds to correspond with the 613 mitzvot or commandments in the Torah. As we say on the night of Rosh Hashana, may our merits increase like the seeds of a pomegranate.
1 cup uncooked brown rice
2 ½ cups water
½ Tbsp olive oil
1 red bell pepper chopped
½ cup cashews
½ cup pomegranate seeds
2 chives chopped
3 Tbsp rice or apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour oil and rice in a small pan and coat rice well. Add water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce and simmer, covered, for 45 to 50 minutes until water has been absorbed. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, chop vegetables and set aside. For dressing, combine vinegar, oils, garlic, salt and pepper. Shake well in a covered jar. When rice is cool, add vegetables and dressing. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.