“Was I there, too?” Mom asks as my dad tells us about a concert they attended Monday night.
“Of course,” he responds.
“I don’t remember,” Mom replies. “I don’t even know if I’m here or there.”
We laugh, because in context, it’s funny. What it means, however, is that Mom is aware of her memory loss, of her dislocation from time, of her inability to live beyond the moment.
We’ve accepted this about her. And in fact, as Mom’s abilities decline, some things are easier. Mom doesn’t fight me anymore when I need to cut her nails. She willingly holds hands when we cross the street. And, whereas before she rejected sandwiches for lunch, she happily eats them because we now cut them into bite-sized bits she can eat with a fork.
What remains a mystery is how Mom, who sits on the sidelines for most conversations, suddenly enters the fray with a zinging comment. Here’s an example from this afternoon.
As most of their bills are in Hebrew, Daddy and I have taken to going over them together to make sure he understands them. He has a pile of papers waiting for me when I get there, and as we sift through them, I notice that one whole stack is not for him. The address is right, but the name on the letter does not correspond to anyone in their apartment. When we finally decipher the last name (Hebrew is written without any vowels, so it is sometimes a guessing game as to how to pronounce words), Daddy realizes the papers are for their upstairs neighbors, the Pe’er family.
“I think they’ve both died,” Daddy says, “although, maybe she’s still alive.”
And then Mom, transliterating from Hebrew to make a joke: “What a pair they are.”
Mom’s brain is functioning.
We laugh long and hard over that joke. It is a small celebration of her vitality and it makes us feel as if our efforts to keep her active and engaged do have an effect.
As I gather my things to head home, Mom tells me she’ll miss me. “I’m like a yo-yo,” I say. “I’m leaving now, but I keep coming back.”
“But when will I see you?”
“I’ll visit next week,” I promise. Mom is still with us. I want to experience that for as long as I can.
The thing about broccoli is that it’s good brain food. Broccoli is high in a phytoestrogen compound that has been shown to benefit cognitive skills. A 2005 study by researchers at King’s College London revealed that broccoli is also high in glucosinolates, a group of compounds that can halt the decline of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is necessary for the central nervous system to perform properly. Low levels of acetylcholine are common in those with Alzheimer's Disease.*
The broccoli kugel featured here is in honor of Mom’s phenomenal brain.
If you’re not overly fond of broccoli, you can substitute almost any other vegetable—cauliflower, squash and carrots, spinach, even cabbage—and still create a hearty vegetable side dish. My favorite: broccoli. This works with fresh broccoli, too.
800 grams frozen thawed broccoli, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tsp mustard
4 Tbsp flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika to sprinkle on top
Sauté onions and garlic until they begin to brown. Let cool. In a large bowl, mix eggs, flour, mustard and mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Add broccoli and onion mixture. Pour into a small casserole dish and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until browned on sides and top.