How can I even describe the surreal world my mother inhabits? It’s like watching an artist paint an inexplicable painting yet still be perplexed by the finished product. I’ve been staying with my parents for the last three days while Mom’s caregiver is in the Philippines visiting her family. I’ll be here next week, too, and then they’ll be with me for Passover.
Mom has an intense connection to my dad because he is her primary caretaker. When he left for a two-day conference, she asked repeatedly where he was going and whether she could go too, then spent much of the day worrying about him.
In a rare moment of insight, Mom told me she’s not adventurous and doesn’t like change. But there we were, the two of us, waving goodbye to Daddy. In spite of my apprehension, we had a good time together. We held hands as we walked through the city streets window shopping and commenting on what we saw around us. Mom sang song after song, most of which I was able to sing with her, or at least hum a few bars. We had things to do, including visiting my grandmother and attending the weekly Monday Music at Midday concert sponsored by She’arim Netanya. Mom was effusive in her praise of the musicians (great violinist and piano duo who played Schubert and Dvorak), and every so often she’d grab my hand to tell me how wonderful it was to be together.
I cannot count the number of times she asked me where Daddy was. Or how many times I morphed from being me to being someone else. When we left the house, she insisted on writing a note for “Miriam.” It read, “Hi, Miriam, I’ve gone shopping with Miriam. We’ll be back soon.”
Walking along the city streets, Mom took the time to marvel at the “bubbles” in the sky, at the tall brown building that someone had managed to put together without it breaking.
Things got a little tense at dinner when Mom said that she felt cut off from everyone, distant from her family, alone. When Daddy returned home that night, he received the most effusive welcome imaginable.
Then Mom insisted that she wanted to go home. No amount of trying to explain that she was already home would satisfy her. When I asked her where home was, she was unable to verbalize it.
“This is a comfortable place,” she said. “My house looks almost like this. But this is not my home.”
Comedian Steven Wright said it best: “I woke up one morning, and all of my stuff had been stolen and replaced by exact duplicates.” And, “Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”
I finally told her we were staying here (in their apartment) tonight, that the beds were already made, and that we’d discuss going home the next morning. Daddy picked up on this, too, and together we helped her get ready for bed.
The next morning, Daddy again left for his conference. This time, Mom turned inward. She announced she was exhausted, and after a short walk outside, she came home, got back into bed at 10:30 am and slept until almost 1:00 pm.
Even with all the information written about Alzheimer’s, nothing prepares me to deal with the strange situations I encounter. The two major things I learned?
Be here now. Being with Mom requires my full attention. No cell phones. No distractions. It helps to be in tune with her needs and wants in order to guide her through the day, whether it means filling in words she can’t remember, suggesting songs she loves to sing, letting her talk about any unrelated subject, or showing her (yet again) how to wash dishes.
Improvise. You’re passing by a well-stocked paper goods store? Go in and take a look. There’s a woman walking a little dog? Stop to pet it. Mom is getting confused about where you are? Start singing, “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”
I am only second best when it comes to Mom’s affections, but I feel confident that I can take care of Mom with love. I hope I am able to bring her joy as I share her world, if even for a little while.
I was surprised to see large pomegranates in the store this week. I generally associate them with Rosh Hashana not Passover. Not only are the rubied seeds hidden in this fruit tasty on their own, but they make a wonderful topping for salads and other dishes. Here’s one that we all enjoyed.
Roasted Cauliflower with Tehina
This eye-catching dish is a great way to prepare cauliflower. The combination of tehina and date honey adds a burst of flavor to every bite. Enjoy!
1 large head cauliflower
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp tehina
1-2 Tbsp date honey
¼ cup chopped parsley
Cut cauliflower into large florets. Toss with oil and salt and place on a large baking sheet for 25 minutes at 400°. Remove to cool in a serving dish. Drizzle with tehina and honey. Garnish with pomegranates and parsley. Serve warm.