The first time I visited her, I wanted to burst into tears. I could not believe that this stooped, drowsy woman smelling of urine was my vivacious mom. Daddy had warned me they’d upped her dose of anti-psychotics to calm her during her transition to the Alzheimer’s ward, and had added anti-anxiety meds, too. Apparently, this is common in these situations. I am sure I would also find it terrifying to be told I had to sleep in a strange place with unfamiliar faces, especially if I didn’t know where I was or why I was there.
Grief is a close companion when your loved one has Alzheimer’s. I’d mourned the loss of Mom on more than one occasion, but this time, seeing her in an altered state after only two weeks’ absence sent me to a dark place.
Mom was pleased to see me, though I’m not sure who she thought I was.
“It’s you!” she exclaimed quietly.
I hugged her tightly, then with the assistance of one of the nurses, we walked her back to her room to change her diaper.
Mom could barely walk, and when we sat down together in adjoining chairs, she curled in on herself. It was all I could do keep her engaged. Encouraged by the kindness of the staff, I took Mom on a few laps around the corridors and sang with her.
“We’ve fallen down a deep, deep place,” she said to me.
One of the nurses said Mom wasn’t eating her meals. Another mentioned she’d stopped napping, preferring to doze in a chair instead of sleeping in her bed. The doctor gave me a print-out of all the meds Mom was taking, and I only recognized two. What was going on here?
I went home after that visit as if I, too, had fallen down a deep, deep place. What have we done, I asked myself. If I were honest, I had to admit that I knew the disease would eventually bring us here. Could I come to terms with this new, lesser mom? Could I accept her as she was? My thoughts ran to a breaking point: Let her go quickly. I cannot bear to see her so defeated.
With great trepidation, I went to visit two days later, this time on Shabbat. I walked the 15 minutes to her home, wondering if I should have come, doubting my ability to make a difference in her life. What would I find when I entered those doors?
And there she was, the laughing, joyous woman I had missed while on vacation, the woman who had been noticeably absent on my first visit. She was alert and smiling, talking a mile a minute to whoever would listen, seemingly relaxed and comfortable in her new surroundings.
I relaxed, too. We sang nursery rhymes and I listened to her ramble. We hugged each other and intertwined our fingers. When it came time to eat dinner, I stayed to help her put the food on her spoon so she could feed herself. I hid her pills in the sweet pudding she was given for dessert.
I walked home with a bounce in my step. Mom has indeed changed since her move, but I could still recognize in her that spark that is uniquely hers. And I felt satisfied that the nursing staff was giving gentle, compassionate care to her.
By the start of this week, Daddy had conferred with the doctor about Mom’s medicines. The extra antipsychotics were now only to be used as SOS medication in the case of uncontrolled anger and hostility. Plus, we were only a short ride away if they wanted us to come and help.
Suddenly, I had the energy to step back and focus on how well Daddy was adapting to his rediscovered freedoms. We are slowly becoming adjusted to our new reality. He has continued to visit her on a daily basis, and we are feeling more positive about the monumental and heart-wrenching decision we took to move her to a closed ward.
This is unquestionably one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. Together with my father, I have confined my mom to a small ward where she will spend her days in relative obscurity. I must step forward and remember that I can still connect with her and shower her with love—regardless of her level of awareness—as long as she is with us.
Eggplants are vegetables to look to in times of stress. They thrive in warm weather, and are adaptable to many cooking methods. They are available year round in our grocery stores, and the longer I’ve lived in Israel, the more courageous I’ve become in cooking with them. Eggplant is filled with vitamins and minerals, including B1 and B6, K, manganese, niacin, potassium, and folate. They are high in dietary fiber, and, when cooked right, extremely tasty.
Sweet and Sour Eggplant
Dare I say that this eggplant dish mimics life’s ups and downs with its embodiment of both sweet and sour?
2 small (or 1 large) eggplant, sliced
1 large red pepper, chopped
1-2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup water
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp hot paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup vinegar
1 heaping Tbsp brown sugar
¼ cup parsley, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 410°. Slice eggplant in 1” slices and place on baking tray. Salt eggplant and let sit approx. 15 minutes (to bring out the bitterness). Wipe slices, then brush each slice with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes. Eggplant should be soft enough to pierce with a knife. Set aside. Sauté garlic and onions until onions begin to brown. Add peppers and cook until soft. Chop cooled eggplant and add to pan, cooking for a few more minutes. In a small bowl, combine water, tomato paste and spices. Pour over vegetables and simmer for a few minutes. Add vinegar and sugar, stir together, then allow to cook another few minutes. Let cool. Garnish with parsley and lemon zest. Serve cold or room temperature.
This recipe was inspired by Orly Ziv’s Cook in Israel: Home Cooking Inspiration, 2013.