I don’t have patience for this, I thought as I listened to the woman on the phone. As part of my job, I sometimes answer a hotline for people who have immigration-related questions about their lives in Israel. The hotline is supposed to be for quick calls—simple questions with little follow-up. As I struggled with this call, it became evident that the woman on the other end of the line had memory problems.
I repeated the information she had requested. Then I repeated it again.
“I’ve been having trouble remembering things,” she said, speaking slowly and hesitantly. “I’m sorry. It’s rather frightening.”
How could I of all people lose my patience? I felt horrible hearing the annoyance that had crept into my voice. I knew better. My one comfort was that maybe she hadn’t heard that jaded tone.
It took an inordinate amount of determination to continue the conversation on an even keel. As we talked, I tried to figure out how to avoid the long asides and unnecessary details of this woman’s life. Finally, I repeated the requested information and suggested that if she needed more help, she could call the hotline tomorrow. By then it would be someone else’s problem.
I don’t always have patience for my mom, either. When I’m with her, it is generally time I’ve set aside to be with her. My time is for her; I have no goals in mind other than to be with her. That’s not to say it is always easy. Sometimes Mom doesn’t want to be with me, or she stubbornly and angrily berates me. The offence is incidental; the emotions are real.
But here I was at work with many tasks to complete. Didn’t this woman know she was taking up too much of my time?
Even though she was aware of and acknowledged her memory loss I wondered if her family knew. Was she struggling to maintain her independence? Had she hidden it from her family? Was it insensitive of me to hope that she got help—and soon—in functioning on a daily basis?
Alzheimer’s presents differently in every individual. There is no specific point at which you determine that someone cannot be alone. There is often no one to guide you to a decision to start providing assistance. Hopefully, the family will be involved. In a worst case scenario, people suffer for years in silence and alone. Sometimes, even long after there’s a framework of support, the individual asserts her will loudly and demonstrably, insisting on her limited freedom and denying your attempts to protect her.
When I meet someone who is the opposite of Mom—with waning physical capacity but fully functioning cognitive skills—and they refuse to acknowledge their need for assistance, it astounds me that they don’t ask for the help they need. It seems to me it is far worse to need assistance and not even know enough to request it; my view of life has been skewed by Mom’s Alzheimer’s.
Mom still has a lot of fight in her, especially if she feels she’s being corralled to do something that she doesn’t want to do. Her sentences are incoherent, but when she raises her voice and slaps her hands together you know how she feels. Dealing with her in that kind of mood is more difficult than dealing with a child. A child at least understands cause and effect and that they are connected to present and future time. You can bend a child to your will in ways you can't with Mom. Saying, "just do this and you'll get a treat," doesn't work.
And yet somehow we manage. Mom’s incalcitrance is my cue to break out in song, and before long, we are walking together singing some of Mom’s favorite tunes. Distraction is a marvellous tool.
When she is happy, Mom says the nicest things.
“It's lovely to be with you. We should spend more time together!”
Amen to that.
Several of my family members are lactose intolerant, meaning they cannot digest lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk and dairy products. I’ve been experimenting with non-dairy recipes that will stand as substitutes for the real thing, and this week I produced a viable and tasty non-dairy quiche.
Non-Dairy Onion Quiche
I didn't tell my family that the quiche they were eating was non-dairy until after they'd tasted it. I just intimated that I'd tried a different recipe. Good reviews all around, and a sense of accomplishment.
1½ cups flour
1/3 to ½ cup oil
5 Tbsp water
Salt to taste
1½ cups vegan cheese, grated
1 large onion, sliced
1½ cups soy milk
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 Tbsp flour
Sauté onions in a frying pan with 1 Tbsp olive oil. When onions become translucent, set aside to cool. Mix crust ingredients in a large bowl then pat into quiche pan making sure to build crust up the sides of the pan. Grate soy cheese (I used a block of salted 16% vegan MashuMashu cheese) and place on crust. Add cooled onions. Using the same bowl (now empty of crust), mix custard ingredients and pour over cheese and onions. Sprinkle top with paprika. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until pie is solid in the center and golden brown on top.