I’m not going to remind Mom that her father’s yartzeit, the anniversary of his death, is coming up. He died 17 years ago just before the holiday of Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah, which starts this Saturday night. In fact, the timing of his death was such that the shiva, the traditional seven-day mourning period, was cut to just one day.
Mom’s sense of time has collapsed. She remembers her childhood. She remembers her father. She knows she’s no longer a child. But she cannot keep in her mind the possibility of his having died. Her understanding of time—her ability to separate past and present—is non-existent. If I remind her, she’ll experience his death as if it were happening now. I don’t want her to feel that loss again. It was hard enough the first time.
Soon, we will have to face an even greater dilemma. What do we do when Mom’s mother dies? Do we tell Mom? Do we take her to the funeral? This is such a thorny question. I guess it depends on the state of the Alzheimer's patient when such an event occurs. And it depends on how you tell them, i.e., with kindness, and in a safe place, perhaps holding hands and crying together. Ultimately, it is about what is best for Mom. Perhaps I'll tell her because I still need my "mommy" as much as she still needs hers. There are no right or wrong answers.
Mom visits her mother twice a week. She gives her kisses, holds her hand, sings to her. She is very connected to her mother. On the other hand, Mom doesn’t always remember my grandmother is wheelchair bound, or almost 100. Sometimes, Mom is sure her mother is out shopping.
In my mind, Mom has a right to know if someone in the family dies. She has a right to grieve and feel loss—as we all do, as she is still capable of doing. If she wants to know details, I’ll tell her. If she wants to go to the funeral, I’ll take her. And when she forgets, I’m going to let it go. I’ve already decided that my grandmother will be shopping for all eternity.
I dedicate this week's blog to my grandfather, Zvi Hillel Silverstein. I was two weeks pregnant with my youngest child when my Zaida died. I named my son after him.
Zaida loved to laugh. By profession, he was a cabinet maker. I am proud to say that the big cabinet that he made more than 50 years ago and brought with him to Israel is now in my living room.
Zaida once told us a story about seeing extraterrestrials while serving as a communications liaison in the British navy during WWII. He and his commanding officer never filed a report about the strange phenomenon they saw.
When we were little, Zaida would rough house with me and my brother, calling us “leech” and “ivy” when we refused to separate ourselves from his massive body. He was also the pickiest eater I have ever met. The only fruit he would touch were yellow apples. The only vegetables he’d consume were those blended to death in the soups my grandmother would make him.
Old-timers in Netanya remember my grandparents as the funny English couple who would attend Israeli folk dancing in the main city square every Saturday night. My grandmother, Millie, would ask only the handsome young men to partner with her; Zaida, who was known as Hilly, would sit on the side and bang his bongo drum in time to the music. Millie and Hilly had a deserved reputation for being social extroverts who befriended many people. May his memory be for a blessing.
Zaida would probably not have enjoyed the dairy food we traditionally make for Shavuot. My grandmother, though, was a sucker for cheese cake.
The Disappearing No-Bake Cheese Cake
I have lost this recipe at least three times, each year requesting it again from my sister-in-law Rise. I once had to give it to her when she lost the recipe. Then, when I make it, it just disappears. This is a very Israeli recipe in that it calls for “white cheese,” g’vina levana. The closest equivalent is a soft cream cheese.
200 grams margarine
2½ cups flour
½ cup sugar
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
750 grams soft 5% white cheese
½ cup milk
1 vanilla pudding mix
250 grams whipping cream (can use 15% fat)
¼ cup sugar
In a large bowl, cream margarine and sugar, add egg, then mix remaining ingredients to form crust. Use about ¾ of the crust in a springform or quiche pan, reserving the remaining crust for a second baking pan, which will be used to crumble on top of the cake. Bake 10 minutes at 350°. In a separate bowl, beat with mixer in this order: white cheese, milk, pudding mix, whipping cream and sugar. Pour in pan over cooled crust. Crumble and sprinkle cake with crust from the 2nd pan. Refrigerate until cake congeals.