I lost my temper out of frustration this week. Mom had taken my coat and wouldn’t give it back. The moment I yelled at her, though, I regretted it terribly.
Here’s what transpired: We had attended a sing-a-long of Chanukah songs. About an hour into enjoying the music and humming along to most of the songs, Mom asked me to find her coat so that she could put it on. Then she saw another coat on the back of a chair near her and wanted to put that one on, too.
“That’s not your coat,” I tried to explain. “You have your coat on. That coat belongs to someone else.”
“Give me my coat,” she thundered. “That’s mine. Why won’t you let me take my suitcase?”
Mom had been talking sweetly all evening in a free-flowing way, mostly making no sense, but she’d been in a good mood. Now we were at a stand-still.
In order to prevent her from taking that coat, I handed her mine. It’s only a five minute walk back to her house, I reasoned. How cold could it be?
I don’t know if I can sufficiently convey the absurd nature of our interaction. Mom begrudgingly took my proffered coat, zippered it up over her other three layers, then walked home with me, grumbling all the way. It was as if she didn’t trust me to take her the right way and she questioned every step we took.
It was chilly outside.
“Don’t be absurd,” she barked when I asked for my coat . “You should have thought of that before, you silly girl.”
Ok, I thought, I’ll just wait until I get her home. She’ll have to take it off then. I sang one of the songs from the sing-a-long over and over to keep us moving forward. Finally we reached her door.
The moment she stepped inside her house, I asked her for my coat.
“This is mine!” she shouted. “I won’t give this to you!”
“Give me back my coat!” I shouted back, my frustration blazing without warning.
“Naomi,” my dad responded, “this is not your coat.”
“What do you mean it’s not my coat? How dare you talk to me like that? Apologize to me this instance!” exploded Mom. “Apologize!”
Mom was inches from his face, her anger palpable, her skin turning bright red. Oh, no, I thought, what have I done?
By this time, Daddy had maneuvered Mom out of not only my coat but her own coat and was leading her to their bedroom to undress for the night. Holding the coat behind my back, I sincerely apologized to Mom for making her so upset.
“I should hope so,” she countered as she moved away, railing all the while against Daddy’s ministrations.
When they entered their room and shut the door, I slipped out and went home. I felt like I was abandoning my post, but I also realized that my presence was not needed.
As emotional as I felt, I also started to analyze the situation. Here are three observations.
Mom’s transition from calm sweetness to an irrational ogre happened suddenly. This may be part of the larger pattern that has been developing these last few weeks. Our caretaker Sahli has noticed that when Mom wears her Exelon® patch—a medicine the doctor has suggested stopping—she is more even-keeled. But this, too, has a limited effectiveness; we must be prepared for more outbursts.
I have to do a better job of controlling my emotions. I might not like Mom’s anger, but I’m in a position to control my moods, while she’s not.
My dad is more adept than I am at working through Mom’s mood swings. I must bow to his greater influence.
I have my coat back, but I feel sheepish. My noble plan to give my dad an extra break by taking Mom to the sing-a-long almost backfired. Thankfully his sensibilities prevailed in dealing with Mom’s intransigence.
And three days later I am still troubled by my behavior. How could I have let myself get so emotional over a damned coat?! Perhaps I should have asked to borrow the coat that had been hanging on the back of the chair. I could have let Mom wear it home then brought it back to its owner.
Or I could have insisted that she listen to me.
Actually, I know I couldn’t do that. It would have meant forcing her to accept my reality. And if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that with Alzheimer’s patients, reality is subjective. Mom’s perception of the world is generally lollipop-hued, but sometimes the world is an unpredictably black place.
Mom doesn’t remember anything of this incident. It’s time for me to move on, too.
It’s nice to be able to think about different subjects when I’m in my kitchen. It is a place I retreat to when I need a break. One of the things I learned while I was in China was the art of steaming broccoli. Our guide Asaf Segal supervised the dinner preparations in several hotels, and this is his method.
Not everyone likes broccoli, but I happen to love it. I laugh every time I think of Saturday Night Live’s Dana Carvey singing his “classic” Choppin' Broccoli song.
1 head broccoli cut into florets
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 1 Tbsp lemon juice
Clean and cut broccoli into florets and place in a steamer over boiling water. (I use a silicon food steamer that fits into most pots and won’t tip over but is sometimes tricky to extricate from the pot.) Steam covered for 5 minutes. In a small saucepan, sauté garlic in olive oil. Remove broccoli to bowl. Pour on garlic and add spices (and lemon juice). Serve warm.