Upside Down Inside
“Everything is weird. I feel like a weird person,” Mom said when she woke up from her nap. “My brain’s not functioning.”
I have heard Mom say those kinds of things before. I was determined to distract her, but even as we drank tea together, Mom continue to tell me about her fears.
“I had horrible dreams about you,” she said. “I didn’t know who was in charge. It’s happening, one weird thing after another.”
I tried again to steer the conversation to other things, and again Mom circled back to the same negative feelings. “Everything is upside down inside me. I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel very strange at the moment. I feel depressed. Sorry. All the things I’m supposed to do but haven’t done. I don’t think I’m up to scale.”
The first thing I did was tell Mom she had absolutely no reason to apologize for expressing her feelings. I knew that talk would not dispel Mom’s mood nor would she remember what we had said to each other. So I got out the musical instruments. We banged out tunes from Carmen with our castanets and tambourines. We sang along with Barbara Streisand’s lyrical voice. We danced to the music of Michael Bolton. Then we sat down on the couch and took some selfies, giggling all the while. When we reviewed the photos, Mom pointed to herself and said, “She has a nice smile.”
How self-aware is Mom? She is obviously concerned about how she interacts with the world but at the same time she has lost her place in it. We started the rainy day with a short visit from my son and his family. Mom did not remember who they were or how they were related to her but she loved holding her 6-month-old great grandson. She even started singing the same nursery rhymes to him as she’d sung to me and that I’d sung to my kids.
Daddy had to leave soon after everyone arrived. I was keenly aware of balancing Mom's needs against the needs of my young family. I was aware, too, of some internal commitment I've made that keys me into Mom in a way other family members don't understand. I view it as my mission to protect her and create an atmosphere that is safe. For example, I don't mind goofily singing in their presence if it makes Mom happy or just staying home and looking at photos if it's raining.
What goes around comes around. As Mom played with baby Roi, I was again conscious of how much like a child she has become. The difference is that Roi is growing in his cognitive functions while Mom, who can still express herself in words, is shutting down.
It is unclear to us why or how Mom is still functioning at a reasonably high level. Daddy has watched friends who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the same time as Mom descend rapidly into end-stages of the disease where they are unable to communicate. For now, even with all the difficulty, we are thankful for the moments of happiness Mom experiences with us. Let the lights of Chanukah be our guide. Let us light up Mom’s darkness for as long as possible. As we touch the edge of 2017, we pray that Mom remains present with us in the coming year.
This last week of 2016 is filled with the light of Chanukah. It is traditional on Chanukah to eat fried foods because when the Temple was rededicated by the Maccabees, they discovered a small container of oil to reconsecrate the menorah that would last for only one day but miraculously lasted for eight days, allowing time for more oil to be produced while keeping the menorah lit. Here’s a recipe for zucchini latkes that use a little less oil in the frying stage than the traditional potato latkes.
These light zucchini pancakes are an alternative to the heavy, oily potato latkes that I grew up with. Make sure you eat them with applesauce and sour cream.
1 large zucchini, grated (approximately two cups)
½ onion, grated
4 Tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 Tbsp oil for frying
Grate zucchini and onion and drain any excess liquids. Add eggs, flour, baking powder and spices. Mix well. Heat ½ Tbsp oil in a Teflon or ceramic frying pan then using a soup spoon, spoon contents into frying pan to create fist-sized pancakes. Press down with back of spoon to flatten latke. Fry on medium heat until latke browns on bottom. Flip and fry on alternate side until zucchini cooks through. Place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Repeat. Yield, about 12 latkes.