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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Human Decency

Two weeks since I last wrote and my mom is still ill. She has a urinary tract infection that won't go away. She's been on three types of antibiotics and because pills have now become difficult for her to swallow, we're dissolving them in cranberry juice.

While I was away, my brother Simon arrived from California for 10 days to help out. And this weekend, they all came to visit me—Simon, Mom and Daddy, along with my oldest and his wife, plus the two kids who still live at home. The kids were as shocked as I was to witness the sharp decline of their beloved, fun, caring grandmother. We stood by helplessly as she vocalized nonsensical sounds and tapped her fingers against the edge of the table or her skirt, strange, repetitive motions that stem from the disease.

Mom is angry, bitter, depressed, and in pain. There were episodes where she described a burning sensation all over her body and yelled such hate-filled expletives. They were sometimes directed at us but more often towards herself.

Simon and I each took turns with Mom so that not all the burden of her care was on my dad. I was on call in the mornings to assist with showering and dressing. Mom adamantly refused to wash her hair. I could not convince her to do it. I don't know when it was last washed. Yet despite her staunch intransience, her helplessness was evident when she asked me what to do next in the dressing process.

Nighttime was especially difficult. What if Mom needed to get up and use the toilet while we were all sleeping? Could she find her way there? Could she find her way back to bed? We left the lights on where possible. Unfortunately, we hadn't thought to tape the sliding bolt on the bathroom door so Mom wouldn't inadvertently lock herself in. Suddenly we heard her knocking and banging inside the bathroom, hysterically trying to get out. We were just about to take the hinge off the door when she somehow managed to slide the bolt back. What relief we all felt when she opened the door.

I took Mom to synagogue with me on Saturday morning. Surprisingly, Mom wasn't that keen on going. Once we were there, though, she enjoyed both the singing and the attention of my friends, even if she can no longer keep up with the service.

I've noticed a pattern to some of Mom's anger. If we invite her to join in an activity she's not sure of, she rejects it. It is easier to say, "I don't need to waste my time on that," or, "that's not for me," or even, "don't be rediculous," than to ask us to explain things to her. Perhaps in that instance she forgets even how to ask.

The one constant is Mom's memory of and pleasure in singing songs. When she was in a bad mood, Simon worked hard to get her to sing or watch snippets of musicals on his tablet. Invariably she would catch the spirit and join in. Oh, what joy to hear her sing, to watch her light up and be happy, even momentarily.

I know things will be better when she feels better. But I won't delude myself into thinking we'll get her back.

The one thing that can make a difference is to continue to bestow small kindnesses on Mom. Listen to her plaintiveness, guide her to sense, accept her protests, and understand the difficulties in navigating her increasingly shrinking world.

Sometimes you need to make comfort foods, those foods that make you feel better just by seeing them in front of you. I feel this way about potatoes. Mashed potatoes are perhaps my favorite, but I’ll take sweet potatoes any time. This recipe combines sweet potatoes with a little bit of Middle Eastern taste to produce a healthy, appetizing dish, that you don’t have to feel guilty eating.

Sweet Potato Medley

What could be better than sweet potatoes and salad. This is a healthy potato dish you don't need to feel guilty eating. Serve warm.

4 small sweet potatoes

1 onion, chopped

½ cup mushrooms, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 Tbsp olive oil

10 cherry tomatoes, quartered

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup tehina

Salt and pepper to taste


Cut potatoes length-wise. Rub a small amount of oil on each one and place cut side down on baking tray. Bake in oven at 350° for 20 minutes or until knife pierces them with ease. Sauté garlic, mushrooms and onions in remaining oil on stove top until onions begin to brown. Set aside to cool. Cut tomatoes and parsley and combine with cooled onion mixture, salt and pepper. When potatoes are done, arrange in a flower pattern on a plate. Drizzle with tehina. Add salad mixture. Serve warm.

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