Two Visits and a Funeral
I was deliriously joyful when I visited Mom on Sunday. She was so alive, filled with happiness and seemingly present, and happy to have company. It was such a relief to find her in a good mood. We had a great time together singing in the corridors, walking slowly in the circular hallway, putting puzzles together, and listening to music. I showered her with kisses and affection, and she returned in kind.
It is always bewildering to walk into her ward and search her out, not knowing how she’ll react to me, if she’s in an angry mood, somewhere far away or present and happy. Often, she’ll reject everything around her. No, she doesn’t want her snack. No, she doesn’t want to walk. No, she won’t lift her legs. No, she won’t play ball. No, she doesn’t want to listen to music.
Maybe we shouldn’t assume she knows what she’s saying. Does she understand what we’re asking of her? Does she say “no” by rote because it’s easier than saying yes? Why is she upset at any given moment? Is she remembering something that upset her now, yesterday, a lifetime ago? It may not be possible to understand the negativity. We can hardly read the cues she gives us because they are difficult to interpret, especially the rambling, jumbled speech, and her tiredness and down-turned eyes.
A 1996 study, “Negative Symptoms in Alzheimer's Disease,” published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, compared the results of scores on the Scale for the Assessment of Negative Symptoms in Alzheimer’s Disease between Alzheimer’s patients and a group of cognitively capable older adults. As you might guess, negativity was more prominent in patients with Alzheimer’s disease than in the other group. They displayed little interest in their well-being, social and family activities, or the emotional needs of others. These Alzheimer’s patients did not present depressive symptoms, so I have to conclude from the study that negativity is a function of the disease.
“Among the patients with Alzheimer's disease, negative symptoms were correlated with dementia severity,” the study concluded. “Such negative symptoms may contribute to functional disability and thus complicate management of such patients.”
Somehow, though I agree with their conclusion, this dehumanizes those individuals with Alzheimer’s. They are not just patients that need to be handled. They are individuals with needs and desires, however limited. My goal, when I’m with Mom is to engage her and entice her to do what is positive and good for her, like drinking or standing and walking with me in the hallways.
When I went back this week for a second visit on Tuesday with my dad, I was equally pleased to find Mom in a good mood. We managed to persuade her to sit outside with us and play ball. Mom was quick at both catching and throwing, and each time we reversed the order of our circle, she knew who to throw to. Her eyes crinkled in delight as we shared jokes and laughter. When it was time to leave, we sat her down at the big tables where the occupational therapist was handing out paper and markers. Mom lacked the fine motor coordination to color, but she did write the number 600—in a shaky, trembling hand—at the top of the page. I don’t know what its significance was.
After the visit, Daddy dropped me at home so I could pick up my car and attend a funeral. Our neighbor, Roberta “Cookie” Rosenbaum, was only 67-years-old when she died. She’d gone through a bone marrow transplant, and unfortunately, did not heal as hoped. She had moved to Beer Sheva a few years ago but in that short time had made many friends. Each eulogy that her family members gave deepened my image of Cookie as an extraordinarily friendly and open woman. I spoke to her not too long before she passed. I had called her husband to make some Shabbat arrangements and as he was in the hospital with her, he handed her the phone. What could I say to this brave woman? How should I greet her? I stumbled over my words. I don’t remember what passed between us but I do know I was able to tell her that we were praying for her.
In her merit, a short time after the funeral, I found myself aiding an American Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) couple who were obviously lost. They were standing by the side of the road unsure of how to get to the central bus station. It wasn’t quite on my way home, but I took them there. We stuffed their carriage in my car’s trunk and I prayed no police would pull me over while the baby was in the back seat with his father. We spoke about this and that on our short ride, why they’d moved south, how they spent their days. They were so different from me, yet individuals with cares and concerns. I hoped I was channeling Cookie’s overwhelming and incontrovertible acceptance of her fellow humans, of individuals regardless of how they live their lives.
Life, in all its wondrous, murky ways moves forward. May Cookie’s memory be for a blessing. And may my visits with Mom continue to be joyous.
Chanukah is around the corner, and I am ready to battle my yearly desire to eat fried jelly doughnuts—sufganiyot—with nary a care. Don’t get me started on some of the high calorie gourmet doughnuts that are already on display in bakeries. I want to try every one of them. Fried foods are not good for us, though they taste grand. We should aim to choose baked cakes over fried. That’s why, this year, I’m offering up a doughnut alternative. Here, for your eating pleasure, is a recipe for cinnamon buns, a sweetened, baked, awesome round cake with a light frosting. They may not be all that much healthier, but they just might keep your mind off of those other creations.
This traditional recipe bakes the most beautiful, picturesque buns. Sweet enough to stop the cravings but not too sweet to overwhelm your palate.
1 cup milk or milk substitute, warmed
1 Tbsp yeast
½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
4 to 5 cups flour
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
¼ cup melted butter or margarine
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ Tbsp milk or milk substitute
Proof yeast in a large bowl with warmed milk (or substitute) and sugar. When yeast bubbles up, add eggs, oil, vanilla, flour and salt. Knead into a dough and let rise for up to one hour. Punch down and roll dough out on a floured surface into a ¼” thick rectangle. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll into a tight log and make sure to pinch the edge closed. Cut log into about 12 “buns.” Place on baking tray to rise for 20 minutes. Bake at 350° F / 180° C for 25 minutes. Frost when cool. Definitely serve warm.