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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Time On My Hands

Mom’s watch is missing. The digital gold-plated watch she got from her sister as a birthday present a few years ago. Gone. We’ve looked in all the “regular” places: under her pillow, in the depths of her handbag, the refrigerator. Nothing.

Perhaps it’s just as well. Mom can still tell time, but I’m not sure how significant knowing time is for her. She doesn’t remember the year or the month. She doesn’t even remember what day it is. She tells time by whether it’s dark or light outside, by what meal she’s sitting down for, by when she feels tired.

She’s also been tested over the years with the clock-drawing test. It’s a test that is used for screening for cognitive impairment and dementia. “Doing the test requires verbal understanding, memory and spatially coded knowledge in addition to constructive skills,” according to a 1998 article in Age and Ageing.* The patient is given a blank piece of white paper and asked to draw a clock. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the patient is less and less capable of constructing a clock. See here for examples of clocks drawn by Alzheimer’s sufferers. Mom’s clock would fit right in with these examples.

“[The clock test] is easy to administer, is not threatening to the patient and takes very little time. It is easy to document graphically in clinical records and it can be used to document deterioration over time in dementia patients. Normal clock-drawing ability reasonably excludes cognitive impairment,” states the article’s conclusion.

As for telling time, there are clocks that you can buy that are specifically designed for Alzheimer’s patients. Some models display both a traditional and digital clock. Some add date and year. Some models change color according to time of day, i.e., bright for morning and afternoon, dark for nighttime hours. Most of these clocks cost about $100.

You can also download several apps that allow you to design and display your own clock. These apps are often free and employ most of the elements mentioned above.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is perhaps the prefect occasion to write about time. We stand at the cusp of a new year, a new beginning with no idea what awaits us. It is a time to assess our lives and look forward to what we may achieve. One of the central prayers of the holiday is the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, alleged to have been written by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz in the 11th century as he lay dying, his limbs amputated as punishment for not converting to Christianity. (Fragments of the prayer, however, have been found in the Cairo Geniza, dating its origins several centuries earlier.)

Unetaneh Tokef is about ceding power to God, the One who knows who will live and who will die in the coming year, who by fire and who by water; who by hunger and who by thirst; who at his predestined time and who before his time. It is a prayer filled with awe and fear. It quickens my own heart to plead that my small family, the ones I love most in the world, will have a year of health and growth and happiness.

Yet the prayer is also a clarion call to rebalance our lives, to practice repentance, prayer and charity as a way to alter God’s judgment, to hear our own “still, small voice” within the loud Shofar blasts and engage in life fully.

Alzheimer’s patients are disconnected from time, though they are still bound by time, especially if there are doctors to visit or concerts to attend. Mom relies on us to take her where she needs to go. This can be a frustrating process. If we tell Mom too early about an appointment, she puts on her bag and jacket (a problem in the summer) and paces the apartment, asking again and again if it’s time yet. If we don’t tell her until the last minute, Mom is flustered.

Meanwhile, in our efforts to find Mom’s watch, I’ve started sorting through overlooked drawers and cupboards that are crammed with stuff. It’s not in her bedside table. We did find old photos and passports, scraps of paper with random information, two old address books, a book on menopause (I took that one), five pairs of glasses, several faded recipes (I’m working on those), and expired medication. We even found an undated will written by my grandmother in which she divides her possessions between her two daughters. We’ve gone through Mom’s jewelry boxes, the small shelves in the medicine cabinet, even the bottom of the clothes closet where she keeps her shoes.

Once I found her wearing two almost identical watches, one on each wrist. This was before she’d received her new gold watch from her sister. The times displayed were about five minutes apart, and Mom was convinced that each watch was set for different activities. One was Mom’s watch, and the other was my dad’s. When Daddy couldn’t find his watch on the dresser next to his bed, we laughingly convinced her to give it back to him.

Time is a precious commodity. When is the last time you had too much time on your hands, time to sit and think, time to engage in a creative exercise? We are all searching for time, some of us more literally than others.

We had a wonderful Rosh Hashana celebration filled with good friends, good food, and meaningful prayer services. We tasted wonderful home-made challahs, chicken stuffed with raisins and almonds, sweet braised cabbage, and aromatic leeks. Now that Shabbat is once again around the corner, how about a light and lemony fish dish as an alternative main course?

Lemon Salmon with Dill

This dish uses some of my favorite spices and flavorings—dill, parsley, garlic, and fresh lemon juice. It is a delicate dish perfect for the holidays.

4-6 salmon fillets or one side of salmon, approximately 1 kilo (2.2 lbs)

½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley

½ cup finely chopped fresh dill

4 cloves garlic minced

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 cups fresh orange juice

3 Tbsp almonds, slivered and toasted

Salt and pepper to taste

1 lemon sliced


Mix dill, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper and juices together. Place salmon in a baking dish and pour mixture over fish. Top with almond slivers and sliced lemon. Bake for 20 minutes at 350°. Use a knife to make sure salmon is cooked through, i.e., it’s color is a dull pink and it flakes to the touch.

* “The Clock-Drawing Test,” Berit Agrell, Ove Dehljn, Age and Ageing (1998; 27: 399-403)

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