Finding happiness in the little things is something that I work at. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally when it relates to Mom. It is fleeting and precious and unpredictable.
When we went out to dinner for my birthday this past Sunday, Mom wasn’t with us. My brother Simon briefly contemplated the idea of signing her out of the home and bringing her along, but we knew she wouldn’t be able to negotiate the experience.
Think about it. Restaurants are often dimly lit at night to create atmosphere, making it hard to see where you’re walking. There are choices to make about what to eat. Conversation occurs between individuals on many levels and subjects, sometimes across the table, sometimes over background noise and possibly a distracting TV screen. There is tableware to negotiate, a napkin to open, food to be cut and placed in your mouth, drinks with ice, with straws, in thin glasses with stems. In short, an evening of a thousand small events, each with its own challenges. In fact, last year when Simon was visiting, going out to eat proved extremely difficult for Mom.
I know that our enjoyment would also have been lessened dealing with Mom in this situation. The joy I found came instead from our visit with her before our dinner. The four of us—me, Mom, Daddy and Simon—sat around one of the tables in the home and interacted with Mom on her level. We sang songs and nursery rhymes, we read the new children’s books Simon had given her, and laughed at every opportunity. We had intriguing conversations. We played with an orange balloon, batting it across the table between us. We held hands, paid Mom the attention she loves and gave each other hugs and kisses.
Mom called us by name. She was genuinely glad to see us. The first time Simon visited her this week, Mom called him Jack. When one of the nurses pointed out that Jack was standing right there, too, Mom said they were both Jack. Obviously.
We stayed for about an hour, then left as she happily sang along to music playing in her new earphones.
My life feels compartmentalized. I open a door and enter Mom’s world. I find a way to connect with her, give her joy and receive her love. Then I am careful to shut the door tightly behind me as I walk back into my own reality. I function, do what needs to be done to live a fulfilling life. I engage and enjoy.
Sometimes the door cracks open and I am flooded with depression over what I’ve lost. Alzheimer’s has erased me from Mom’s past. She has no concept of “daughter,” “mother,” “wife,” “son.” She cannot wish me happy birthday or ask how my day went. She is not present in my reality.
It comes in waves, this mourning, the feeling that this situation is so much larger than I let it be.
Those wave metaphors are hard to resist. Sometimes you ride the waves; sometimes they crush you. Waves, like experiences, are fleeting, but they pound the same part of you again and again, and it is up to you to move forward. Life is like the waves of the ocean: you are pulled and pushed by the tides of experience.
If life is like the waves, let them wash over me in joy and not in anger or sadness. Let me relive those beautiful moments in my youth and adulthood when I had a functioning mother so that they are ingrained in me when I do return from her world. And let my love for her in her current state be the wave that carries me forward from day to day.
My birthday dinner in a busy, dimly lit restaurant was fabulous and affirming.
You don’t have to wait for a party to make this grilled summer squash recipe. Start the grill up mid-week, slice the squash into 1” thick slices, and grill till tender. If you have leftovers, add them to sandwiches, or snarf them down when no one is looking. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Grilled Summer Squash
You don’t need much to bring out the full taste of this squash. A little oil and spices will do the trick. My husband Jeff’s sauce is bursting with flavor.
1/3 Canola oil
1/3 olive oil
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
1 Tbsp zatar (hyssop)
½ cup water
Remove stem from squash and slice into three. Dip each slice into oil and spices to coat well, then place on grill. Cook on grill for 20 minutes, flipping once, until slices are tender. Serve immediately.