With the very first note, Mom was standing by the piano. As “Somewhere” from West Side Story took shape and became familiar, Mom started singing with such feeling, such strength, that it brought tears to my eyes. Here was the exuberant mother I was missing.
I’d taken Mom to my friend Hannah’s house for a “concert.” Hannah teaches piano, and though Mom can’t learn music anymore, I wondered if she would enjoy singing along to songs and music that she knows. The answer was overwhelmingly “yes.”
Hannah played short pieces, songs from The Music Man, Showboat and Evita. She played “Fur Elise,” by Beethoven, an intermezzo by Brahms, and pieces from “Scenes from Childhood” by Robert Schumann, and Mom was captivated. As Hannah said, Mom intrinsically understood the emotional language of the music. I placed a chair by the piano so that she could sit down, but she was too excited to sit. We danced together and waved our arms as she sang with all her heart. It was spectacular.
We’re filling in the paperwork to place Mom in a home. But we’re also busy building up her daily schedule with stimulating activities. Maybe that will afford my dad the space he needs without having to place Mom in a closed Alzheimer’s ward just yet.
When she’s not busy yelling at him, Mom wants to be as close to Daddy as she physically can. “You won’t leave me, will you?” she asks. Or, if he’s leaving the house, “Can I come, too?” She wants to hug him and stroke his arm. Despite not being sure about who he is, she obviously loves him.
We don’t have a final decision yet. There are many factors that keep coming into play. One friend suggested that it’s been less than a year since my parents moved to their current location. To uproot Mom again in such a short period of time might cause further damage. Most responses to our dilemma stressed that this is not an either/or situation. If we do place Mom in a closed ward, we will still be able to love her unconditionally—and without all the unwanted intimacy involved in washing and dressing her. This is such an individual choice. There is no right or wrong decision. And when we make it, it will be the right one.
We’ve also decided to hire someone a few hours a week to engage Mom through conversation and movement, someone who understands Mom’s cultural references and can relate to her past. We are doing this in tandem to the process of form-filling, figuring out our options, looking for the optimal solution.
When I visited Mom yesterday afternoon I brought her a present I’d made. It’s a plastic box filled with all manner of things to rummage through. There are buttons of all sizes, wine corks from numerous wineries, a zebra puppet, sparkly paper in various colors, cotton wool, rattles, words on 3 x 5 cards, castanets, and pre-opened mail that can be reopened and reread.
We spent more than an hour “playing” with the items in the box. Often, buttons or cards became cues for a song, as did the castanets. We compared the feel of the sparkly paper to the cotton wool. We told stories about the buttons and who might have worn them. We took turns voicing the zebra, whom Mom instantly adored. We sang and laughed together with such joy.
I placed the lid back on the box and slid it under the coffee table until the next time I come to visit. When we reopen it, all the items inside will be new in her eyes, and we’ll repeat the games ad infinitum. If I add anything new, or change the contents, it will be for my own stimulation.
These are some of the changes to Mom’s routine that we’ve initiated while we move slowly and hesitatingly towards that fateful decision.
Where I live, people don’t generally make zucchini bread or carrot cake, and forget about banana bread. It’s just not done. What they do make is tahini bread. This gluten-free recipe is about as simple as it gets, and the bread that it produces has a rich smoky flavor that is perfect for sandwiches or a simple snack.
I make my tahini bread without too much honey, but you can certainly make it sweeter. Or, better yet, eat a warm slice spread with honey and melted butter.
6 Tbsp raw tahini spread
2 Tbsp date honey (or more for a sweeter bread)
2 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 350°. In a small bowl beat eggs. Mix in tahini and date honey then add the baking powder. Pour into a small greased bread pan and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes.