“Should we wake her up?” I asked my daughter.
Mom was sleeping soundly, her earphones planted on her ears playing her special mix of show tunes and Klezmer, her eyes tightly closed.
How tired she must be, I thought, not to hear all the noise around her. The TV was babbling in Russian. Residents were talking in their intensive nonsensical ways. Two of the nurses were trying gently to extricate crayons from the mouth of one fellow. Another resident was calling loudly for lunch. And Mom was blissfully unaware. I was hesitant to wake her, knowing that Mom’s day had started around 7:00 a.m., and that by lunchtime she was often quite tired.
If I were by myself I probably would have left, but I had my daughter Liora with me. Liora was flying back to Maryland that night, and this was her last opportunity—for a while—to see her grandmother.
“Maybe we should just go,” I suggested to Liora.
I turned to one of the nurses for advice. “She was awake just a minute ago,” the nurse reported. “Lift her earphones so she knows you’re here.”
Mom woke slightly befuddled, calling out for my dad (“he’s going to kill me when he finds out,” she said in her slurred, sleepy voice, though we had no idea what she was referring to). She seemed happy to see us. Liora presented her with a large, cuddly stuffed rabbit which Mom enjoyed touching and conversing with. We sang some songs together, but in truth, Mom seemed distant. She connected with us for only minutes at a time.
I kept wavering about whether we should stay or not. Was Mom getting anything out of our visit? Were we? Was she better off in her own little world with her earphones on?
“It doesn’t matter if we stay or go,” Liora finally said, “what matters is how you feel about your decision.”
I was startled to attention by Liora’s words. She had managed to encapsulate my guilt into one sentence, to push me to understand that there was no right answer, to call me to decisively make up my mind. Yes, I love my mom. Yes, I am committed to visiting her. Yes, I strive to connect to her. If I visit for just 20 minutes, the nature of Mom’s illness is such that I can still achieve my goals on a modest scale. It helps me keep Mom in my thoughts and in my heart, a shadow presence in my daily activities. For in truth, the woman in the closed Alzheimer’s ward is a facsimile of my mother; my visits reinforce my unconditional love for who she is and pay homage to who she once was.
Now I must steel myself to say goodbye to Liora who has been visiting for the past two weeks. I am blessed that Liora and I can talk every day if we want despite the geographic distance between us. Our open relationship highlights the stark differences I have in communicating with my own mother, the unbridgeable distance that Alzheimer’s has caused. How I wish I could have an opportunity—even if momentary—to communicate with Mom like that again.
It’s been a topsy-turvy ride! Everyone wanted a piece of Liora, including me. Between catching up with friends, family took priority. Our house was bursting at the seams on two successive Shabbatot with all the rooms occupied and friends hanging out in the living room. Liora and I went shopping, we shared a lovely sushi lunch, and we even manage to cook together: challah, fish, lasagna. She totally overhauled my Moroccan fish recipe. But when I requested a more mild fish for Shabbat, she pulled this one out of her hat.
Salmon with Paprika, Tomato and Lemon Slices
I might as well call this fish Salmon Liora. My daughter’s culinary skills have increased ten-fold since she’s been living on her own. She has gained a confidence that is enviable.
1 large salmon fillet, approximately 1 kilo / 2 lbs
1 onion, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Moroccan paprika
1 tsp garlic granules
Salt and pepper to taste
Place fillet on a large baking tray. Rub with oil and pour on lemon juice. Sprinkle fish with spices. Top with sliced onions, tomatoes and lemons. Sprinkle additional paprika on top. (If you don’t have Moroccan paprika, which is a traditional blend of freshly ground paprika, olive oil, sea salt and sometimes garlic, use a combination of sweet and hot paprika.) Bake for 20 minutes at 350° F / 180° C or until fish is cooked. Test by sticking a fork into the fish to see if it easily flakes.