It happened as I knew it would. The second day into my two-week trip abroad, Mom was moved into a closed Alzheimer’s ward. Despite being with my family, despite all the fun things we did together (visiting Muir Woods, the Golden Gate Bridge, swimming in my brother’s pool, China Town, a full Shabbat of enjoyable guests), those quite moments when I was by myself were the hardest. I tried not to cry in front of my kids. I wasn’t too successful.
It didn’t help that Mom was disoriented and aggressive at being separated from her beloved husband. I kept thinking how awful it must be for her to wake each morning in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people directing her to wash and dress. I berated myself for not being there.
The home where she was ultimately placed was actually only five minutes away by car. We found out about it through a nurse in Mom’s health clinic. She recommended it as the home where she had place her father. The moment we stepped inside for our visit, Daddy and I both liked the home, the large windows that let in light and its corridor designed for ambulating round and round. When we arrived, the residents were sitting at tables arranged in a square while the occupational therapist was interacting with them through hands-on games and activities. There was music playing, too.
I met some of the staff when they came for a home visit to check on Mom’s abilities. This was the day before I left for vacation. They wanted to make sure she was physically eligible to be in their ward. Though she didn’t understand who they were, she charmed them with her smiles and polite conversation. She even pranced about on her toes, arms wide, as if she were a ballerina.
As we drove around California with my brother Simon and his family, Daddy sent updates. They did nothing to halt the sorrow and guilt I was feeling. The first few days were the hardest. Mom was sedated to reduce her aggression. Daddy reported she was so drugged, she could barely stay awake. He had been afraid she’d demand to go home with him, but she was too out of it to care. His nighttime writings were the hardest to read: “In the dark, the feelings creep in. My lovely Naomi. She was so alive and vivacious. Now she is a hollow facsimile of herself.”
I kept asking myself what about the situation was so painful for me, why my crying was such a deep, primal howl of pain. The situation at home had been deteriorating for a while and was no longer tenable. Daddy could not continue to care for her without losing himself. And I was not in a position to step in full-time. Mom’s care had been taking up my emotional space, too. I had even started questioning my ability to keep Mom calm and entertained. I dreaded our weekly outings to synagogue, especially the long walk home in the heat where she often pulled away from me as her confusion took center stage. The decision to move Mom was not mine, though Daddy sought my input. And yet, I was heartbroken. I knew I had reached another stage of loss—Mom was never coming back.
These past two weeks my thoughts returned again and again to Mom. I missed her. As the staff of the home reduced the drugs in her system, Mom seemed to come back to herself. I received more positive messages from Daddy as the days passed. Daddy sent a photo of her smiling and happy. He sent more photos when my Aunt Barbara came to visit. Barbara was pleasantly surprised by the home, its cleanliness and its caring staff. He wrote that Mom had started feeding herself again, and her aggression was notably absent. Both Daddy and Barbara’s daughter, my cousin Lara, who is a doctor, verbalized the idea that the staff at the home had been willing to do what we hadn’t—up Mom’s drugs so that she was in a happier state of mind.
I don’t know what I will find when I finally visit Mom. I am anxious that she won’t know who I am, that she won’t be able to sing with me anymore or shower me with the love and laughter I so crave from her. I know she is being taken care of with compassion. Perhaps that’s enough. How aware of herself and her life is she? Does it matter that she’s no longer at “home?” Is she better off with a functional daily schedule that the home provides? Is she at peace? I may never have answers to these questions.
I’m finally home after two weeks of being away. The fridge is stocked, the suitcase is unpacked, the laundry is drying, the cat is sleeping beside me. I will go soon to visit Mom. In the meantime, I need to start eating properly and put the junk food and chocolate binging behind me. That’s why I made a healthy cake to snack on. I am nothing if not predictable.
Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bars
Peanut butter and chocolate are my favorite flavor combination.
1 cup peanut butter (use chunky!)
½ cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
½ cup soy or other milk substitute
1 cup flour
1 cup oats
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup chocolate chips
½ cup chocolate chips
¼ cup smooth peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°. Cream peanut butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and soy milk. Mix in flour, oats, and baking powder. Fold in chocolate chips. Pat dough into a small loaf pan and bake for 20 minutes. Prepare topping in microwave by combining ingredients in a small glass dish and cooking on high for 20 seconds. Stir and repeat until chocolate is melted. Add a little water to topping if it becomes too thick. Spread on cooled cake.