Short but Sweet
It’s taken me a good while to figure out and accept that my best visits with Mom are fleeting—short, intense half-hour “dates” that allow us to connect and shower each other with love. We don’t seem to be able to sustain more than that. Either Mom’s mood changes, or I run out of things to engage her with, or there’s a program in the ward that she’ll benefit from. I still carry with me the idea that a visit should last a long time, that I should occupy her for as extended a time as I can. It’s a throwback to the entire mornings I used to spend with her before we moved her to the closed Alzheimer’s ward.
Mom’s life is different now and, by extension, my life is different. I don’t have to spend a whole day devoted to traveling and visiting her. Instead, I can pop on over for a half hour with very little effort.
Except that it is perhaps more difficult emotionally to visit her now. I steel myself for how I’ll find her. I worry that we won’t connect. And even if we do, that it can’t be sustained. There is no sense of conversation, of passing the time together. When it works, it’s an elemental connection that induces laughter and a few bars of a song. We read a book together, take a walk around the corridors, go out to the cooler and drink a cup of water. Then she wants to talk with the other women in the central room. She takes their hands, tells them they look nice today (though as Hebrew or Russian speakers, they don’t understand her English). She'll be so focused on the other people around her, I feel invisible as I stand or sit next to her. She often can’t make eye contact with me, even when I try to focus her attention on my presence. And then she’s back to rambling in a long string of inaccessible words and thoughts.
The funny thing is, I love our visits while they’re happening, but when I get home, I feel glum. It’s a combination of guilt and relief that I don’t have to entertain Mom for a sustained time, that I can get back to my own schedule. But I also miss her terribly.
And then I must accept that this is how it is, this cycle of love and despair.
She’s never coming back. The most I can hope for these days is that she’ll remember my name.
It is cold outside. Time for hunkering down and eating soups and stews. There’s a traditional winter meal we eat on Shabbat afternoons called cholent (or chamin, as it’s called in Hebrew). There are many different recipes for cholent, though the stew generally contains meat, beans, barley, potatoes, carrots, and sometimes whole eggs. You start this stew on Friday just before Shabbat comes in then slow cook it all night until the family sits down to a hearty lunch. I’ve made many variations, but this one is truly scrumptious. The best bits are the browned parts at the top and bottom of the pot.
This recipe was given to me by my good friend Ken who got it from his friend Jonathan. Though I’ve tinkered with the amounts, I believe kudos go to Jonathan for being the originator of this version of cholent. I have always made my cholent in a pot, as was tradition in the shtetl when families would place their pots in the communal bakery oven that would stay lit all Shabbat. You can also use a crock pot.
1.5 – 2 kilo / 3 – 4 lbs beef shoulder, cubed
3 onions, sliced
3 potatoes, peeled and sliced
8-10 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup barley
1 cup teriyaki sauce
1 cup ketchup
1 cup date honey
1 cup water
In a large deep pot, sauté onions in olive oil. Add beef when onions become translucent. When meat is browned, toss in potatoes and barley, garlic and spices. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add ketchup, teriyaki sauce, honey and water. There should be enough liquid to cover contents of pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to low heat with pot lid on. When Shabbat comes in, transfer pot to a hot plate. Cover pot with a thick blanket (making sure blanket does not touch the surface of the hot plate) and leave to cook all night.