I feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole into an Alzheimer’s version of Naomi in Wonderland. My dad flew to Miami two days ago, and I am here taking care of my mom for the next 10 days. We’ve thrown out logic along with any concept of personal space and emotional buffers. The only time I am alone is when she’s sleeping. I have been relying on my creative parenting skills and using her memory loss to keep her on schedule.
Once Mom is showered and dressed—a process I assist her with—it’s time to eat breakfast.
“Here are your medicines,” I tell her. “You have to put them in your mouth and swallow them with your juice.”
“Those aren’t mine,” she states.
“Can you put them in your mouth?”
“Why would I do that? I’m not taking those.”
On the 10th try, she acquiesces. That’s only because she can’t remember I’ve asked her to take them 9 times already!
She wants to nap with her shoes and glasses on? Go ahead.
She wants to eat her sandwich with a knife and fork? Great.
She wants to do the dishes? Superb. I’ll wash them with soap when she’s sleeping.
She wants to wear her clothes to bed? Fine with me.
When she asks where Daddy is, I tell her he’s at a conference (which is true) and that he’ll be home soon (which is not so true). When she pouts that “he didn’t tell me,” I pull out the note he’s left her:
I have to go to a conference in Miami. I’ll be back soon. Don’t worry. Enjoy being with Miriam.
Love you very much,
That note is my most precious possession. After the first day of Mom’s constant questions, when I left it lying on the kitchen table, I decide I need it with me at all times. It saves us from her anger at feeling abandoned.
I can deal with all this. It’s par for the course for a caregiver. But what happens when Mom is adamantly convinced that she’s not in her own home? I am astounded by her perception of reality. I can't quite believe that she believes this is not her home. There is no one else to turn to, and as the responsible adult, I must use all my skills to help her through this.
I try telling her we’re staying here just for the night. I use logic to show her the family photos, her name on their door, the familiar paintings. She tells me she has a room identical to this one, but this one is not hers. She rebuffs my suggestions and angrily demands I take her home. It’s dark outside. Can I lock the door and walk to another room until she calms down? Should I put music on and hope that works? Should we leave the apartment? What will happen if I take her outside? Will she run from me, or stubbornly refuse to return with me? I am terrified of her reaction, of losing all leverage to change the situation, of not being able to calm her.
I decide I must take the chance. We put our shoes on, gather our purses and set out into the night. We leave from the front door of the apartment building and head down the street, arm in arm, singing as we go. We turn the corner and continue walking round the block. We approach the building from the back entrance.
“Here’s your building,” I tell her. “Here’s your car. Let’s go into the lobby. It’s nice to be home. Let’s go up the elevator to your apartment. Here’s your door with your name on it. Here we are. We’re home!”
She walks in appeased. And I tremble with relief.
“Thank you for bringing me home,” she says as she puts her purse under her pillow.
I’ll remove it later when she’s sleeping, along with the skirt and shirt she’s stuffed there, the extra nightie, the tissues and napkins she’s collected, and her glasses that she’s folded with care.
I tell her we’re having a girl’s night, a slumber party.
“Can I get you anything,” Mom asks. “Do you need anything?”
How sweet her solicitousness is, I think. I tell her I’m fine. Then she asks again and again and again until I exasperatedly tell her that I can help myself.
Mom reads Daddy’s note one more time then finally climbs into bed and crashes till morning.
I’m not sure what awaits us during the next week and a half. I hope we can continue to find happiness together in each passing day. That is what I’m aiming for.
Yes, it’s true, I like to eat cake in stressful situations. And when it’s airy orange cake, it’s easy to eat several slices in one sitting. Thanks to my friend Judy who shared her recipe. Thanks to my mom for stressing me out…
1 2 3 Cake
This is a light cake with a delicate, orangey taste. Don’t be surprised if it takes more time to bake than the allotted 45 minutes.
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
2½ tsp baking powder
½ cup water
½ cup orange juice
Beat oil and sugar until creamy. Add in eggs and vanilla. Alternately stir in water and orange juice with flour and baking powder and beat well. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until done.
For marble cake:
Pour 2/3 of batter into tube pan. Add 1/2 cup of chocolate syrup to remaining batter and beat well. Pour into pan and use a spatula to marbleize.