Mom took my cold hand in her palm and started rubbing it.
“You’re so cold,” she said.
“I just came in from outside,” I told her.
I expected her to start singing a line from La Boheme about how “your tiny hand is frozen,” but instead, with our fingers lying next to each other, she counted them as if together they were one hand.
“You’re my bubaleh,” she whispered.
I wanted her back so much in that moment.
In truth, and in retrospect, 2018 has been our hardest year yet in dealing with this disease. The combination of Mom’s move to Beer Sheva and her continuing decline, pushed my dad to his “tipping point.” Unable to care for her ourselves, we placed Mom in a care facility, a closed Alzheimer’s ward, not far from where we live. It tore our hearts apart.
The silver lining in all this is that I can visit Mom every day with little effort, and when I sit with her or sing or walk with her along the ward’s corridors, I am bestowing her with all the love I still have for her. Sometimes, Mom doesn’t respond to my presence. And, it is not easy to leave her there, knowing her existence is so limited; and also knowing that she is in the care of strangers, no matter how kind they are.
At her recent six-month evaluation, the staff of nurses, doctors, and an especially sweet social worker, all agreed that Mom’s emotions have leveled out—she is less angry and vituperative. She has become more interested in participating in the facility’s activities.
For all that, today the young occupational therapist placed a bingo board in front of Mom. We read the numbers together, but Mom could not understand how to play the game. Instead, we took a piece of blank paper and I wrote some names and numbers on it and suggested she copy them. Mom concentrated on using her pencil to duplicate the figures, but she did so with difficulty. Writing is another skill she has lost.
Do these things matter to someone with Alzheimer’s? I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t know if Mom is better off in one place or another, if she is more or less lonely or feels more or less loved, or is even more or less aware of her surroundings. All I know is that when we connect, I cling to that little piece of her as a recognizable element of my beloved mother.
I am hoping that 2019 brings with it a little more stability in terms of Mom’s condition, that the disease leaves us alone for a little while so that we have more time with Mom as we prepare to descend into the abyss that is Alzheimer’s.
The kitchen is my refuge when the emotional stress of caring for and thinking about Mom becomes overwhelming. This week, I decided to try my hand at a new type of bread. No, I’m not bored with making challah; I do that virtually every week and I love it. This was more about challenging myself, and losing myself in the baking process. The bread is a delectable combination of rye flour, whole wheat and white flours, and selected herbs. Try it with a slab of melting butter.
Herbed Rye Bread
This is a good recipe to make when you have an afternoon free, or rather not free, but you can walk to and from your kitchen as you accomplish other tasks in the house. I was thrilled by the rich, supple bread this recipe produced. If you want to produce four loaves, double the recipe.
2 cups rye flour
1 cups whole wheat flour
1 cups white flour
¼ cup olive oil
½ Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp yeast
4 Tbsp sugar
1¼ cups warm water
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
Caraway and sunflower seeds for topping
In a large bowl, proof the yeast by adding one cup water and the sugar and letting the yeast bubble up and activate. In a separate bowl, mix flours, salt, and herbs. Combine all ingredients, including oil and remaining water, into large bowl with yeast. Mix together then knead as dough begins to form. Let rise for one hour in a warm place. Punch down and kneed, then shape into two loaves and place in a pan. Let rise for about 40 minutes close to the oven on a low heat. Preheat oven to 350° / 180°. Brush top of loaves with egg, then sprinkle on caraway and sunflower seeds.Lightly slice the top of the loaf with a knife in three or four diagonal cuts. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until bread is browned on top and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.