Sometimes, standing still is a good thing. Mom seems to be in a holding pattern in her new Alzheimer’s ward. She exhibits a wide range of emotions, talks a mile a minute to anyone who will listen (even when they don’t understand her), and generally participates in group activities. Plus, she has her music to keep her company.
I can’t ask for more. We are resting on a small plateau, knowing there will be more—sometimes rapid—downturns in Mom’s mind and body, and we are enjoying everything we can about interacting with her for the present. When Mom last saw my husband Jeff, she asked if she could marry him. We smiled and giggled, and I recognized Mom’s innate interest in interacting—yes, flirting!—with another human being. She is hanging in there as a recognizable if diminished version of herself.
Today, after visiting Mom, I went to visit my friend Sarah who is in hospital (you can read her blog about that here). We took a stroll around the sunny grounds laughing and telling each other stories about our lives. It was healthful and intimate, quiet and calming. And in Sarah’s case, we tallied all the progress she had made.
That is as it should be. When we are young, and young-at-heart, our growth in life should be like a staircase progressing upwards.
Of course, accidents do happen, and sometimes stairs get in the way of our upward progress. In our first home in Maryland, a neighborhood kid came over to show us a neat trick he had invented: he could race down the stairs, use his hands to open the screen door that was opposite the stairs, and fly outside without slowing down. He must have shown us several times, but I demurred from trying it myself. My brother Simon, on the other hand, felt compelled to compete with this kid. I watched from outside the house as Simon flew down the stairs then put his hands up to push open the screen door. Except that there was only screen on the bottom part of the door; the top was made of glass. My dad, who was walking along the outside path to go to work, heard not only the sound of glass shattering but Simon’s screams—and then Mom's screams—as the glass cut his wrist. He and Mom bundled Simon into the car, and with the help of a passing policeman, rushed to the emergency room, sirens blaring. I have an image in my mind of Simon being bathed with both hands bandaged and hanging outside the tub so as not to get them wet.
The stairs to the basement in our last family home were trepidatious at the best of times. It took a lot of coaxing to get me down them, past the small bathroom, into the orange-colored living room with the L-shaped couch, and through the door to the dark recesses of the basement where the washer and dryer were located. I had to pass the loud boiler with its staccato bangs and beats to collect the clothes. Maybe that’s why I never wanted to practice the piano, located as it was on the other side of the wall to the boiler. Mom traversed these stairs several times a day, and if she was scared, she never let on.
These days, Mom can barely lift her legs to step forward without dragging her feet. We sing marching songs as we walk around the hallways in her closed care facility, but it doesn’t register. I doubt she can climb stairs anymore.
There is no escaping the downward staircase we are traversing with Mom. If there is comfort to be found, it is in being able to stop and reflect on each downward step.
When I visited Sarah, I brought her a treat that I knew would be good for her: gluten free zucchini muffins. These are also non-dairy. When I added chocolate chips to the recipe, they went from being good to outstanding.
Gluten Free Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins
Some people think that if you are gluten free, the world will end and there will be nothing to eat. Au contraire. It opens up new challenges to be conquered and a whole cookbook of recipes to try. This is a tasty dessert. And if you leave out the chocolate chips (heaven forbid!), you would have a healthy snack alternative.
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
½ cup date honey
¼ cup soy milk
1½ cups gluten free flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 cup grated zucchini
½ to 1 cup chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350° / 180°. In a large bowl, mix oil, eggs, vanilla and cider. Add soy milk and honey, salt and cinnamon. Slowly stir in flour and baking soda. When dough is mixed, add zucchini and chocolate chips. Spoon into greased muffin tin and bake for 18 to 20 minutes. Makes about 16 muffins.