Battered and Fried
A dear friend posted a video on my Facebook page of a woman with Alzheimer’s describing the disease and how it affects her.
Imagine, she says, that your brain is like a bookcase. The most recent memories are on the top shelf: what you had for dinner, the concert you saw yesterday, the walk you took in the afternoon. At about shoulder level are the memories from your 50s. By your knees is the shelf containing memories from your 20s. And at the bottom, on the sturdiest shelf of all, are the memories from your childhood and adolescence.
As Alzheimer’s rocks and shakes your world, the bookcase starts to teeter. Those memories stacked on the topmost shelf are the most vulnerable; they fall easily. All along the uppermost shelves, memories slip and fall, leaving big gaps in your comprehension. So that the most “recent” memories that you can access are the steadfast childhood memories, those memories that are the foundation of your personality.
Then the woman describes another bookcase, this one holding your emotional life. Even as Alzheimer’s erases your memories, this second bookcase is sturdier. So while a recent visit from a sister or friend might be forgotten, the emotional experience, the happiness and laughter will leave an impression of well-being. Don’t stop visiting, she says, because the love of family and friends does have an impact.
This is an exceptional video. The woman is one of the most self-aware and expressive Alzheimer’s sufferers I’ve heard speak. Her metaphors are right on the mark.
And her outlook on life is so different from my experience with my mom.
Mom has cried in my arms over her failing memory and utter confusion but she has never once recognized that she is suffering from an illness—certainly not Alzheimer’s—even when she was capable of thinking it. And while I know she still derives benefit from the visits she receives and the events she attends, her emotional bookcase is breaking. At this stage, there is more anger, more incoherence as she tries to express herself. The fog of Alzheimer’s is becoming more prevalent.
I was truly inspired by the posted video. It’s just that when it brushes up against my own reality, it makes me realize that we are in a very different place. Perhaps it’s also my Aunt Barbara’s observations. This is the second week of her visit. She’s not able to slip into Mom’s reality the way I am, and I hear her loss in every reported incident of untamed anger and spitefulness, jumbled rambling conversations, and Mom’s obsequious fawning over my dad.
Meanwhile, I am preparing my house for a late-week visit by my parents and Barbara and her partner Brian. The beds are made, the lock on the bathroom door is taped open, the fridge is stocked. I’m planning some awesome dinners while they’re here, taking into account everyone’s tastes and preferences, dietary needs and illnesses.
Aging is no fun. I don’t think any of us are unscathed by the aging process. Even at the young age of 50, I am noticing changes in my physical and mental abilities; the very body and mind that have navigated me here to this amazing life are changing. Some of us have it easier than others, but eventually, we all enter the fog. The trick, as my British relatives might say, is to keep your peckers up.
I don’t make tempura very often, but I thought how appropriate it was to highlight it here. Tempura is a Japanese dish of batter-fried vegetables. The vegetables all look alike after frying: the batter hides their flavors and colors. So too with people. Our innermost experiences are different one from the other. They are ours alone, unique and colorful, though our external covering is much the same as the next human.
We may be battered by the daily trials of Alzheimer’s and our emotions fried to the point where we see only the “normal” and common exterior; yet we must overcome the difficulty and push ourselves to experience the delicious differences under the surface, the remnants of our loved one’s unique personality.
I must remember this as I appreciate the video that was posted on my Facebook feed at the same time as I understand that Mom is having her own unique experience with Alzheimer’s.
This batter will cover enough vegetables for about six people. Use any combination of the following vegetables and keep going until the batter runs out.
2-3 carrots, thickly sliced on the diagonal
1 sweet potato, sliced on the diagonal
1 onion, sliced in rings
2-3 bell peppers, cut in chunks
1 squash, thickly quartered
Cauliflower and/or broccoli florets
2½ cups flour
3 egg yolks
2 cups cold water
Salt to taste
Oil for frying
½ cup tamari
½ cup water
1 tsp powdered ginger (or ½ Tbsp grated fresh ginger)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp sesame oil
In a large bowl, beat eggs and water gradually adding flour and salt. Batter should be thick and slightly sticky. Heat oil in a large-bottomed pan, enough to cover the vegetables (approximately 3 to 4 cups). Coat each vegetable piece in the batter and drop gently into the oil. Oil should be hot enough to bubble as vegetables fry. They will sink to the bottom of the pan then rise as they cook. Drain on a paper towel. Serve immediately. Can reheat if necessary.