Mom was so delighted to see my dad today. It was as if her grey existence suddenly became bright, as if she knew she was missing something—or someone—in her life, and she could relax. She didn’t want to be there but we managed to sit and talk with her as she had her coffee, walk with her a little, sing a few songs. Mostly she shushed me so that she could talk to Daddy, serenading him with a slew of nonsensical words. Then it was time to go. We left her listening and singing along to her headphones, eyes closed, a beautiful smile on her face. Nothing else mattered at that moment, not her earlier anger or her comments about feeling dead. Not her alternating disdain and deep affection for the nurses and residents. Not her sense of abandonment or dislocation from the world. What mattered was the music and the way it gave her back a sense of identity. She was 100% engaged.
We didn’t stay long. Daddy dropped me off at the local outdoor mall. I had Mom’s activity blanket with me.
I’ve been trying to repair the blanket that my sister-in-law Sharon made for Mom. It’s a large quilted blanket with different textures to touch, bunches of beads, a Velcro strap, keys, and a zippered pouch to open and close. On the back, sewn in large pink letters is Mom’s name.
We generally place the blanket on the table in front of Mom when she’s in the common room with the other residents. Mom fingers the different fabrics, and it keeps her occupied. Other residents also seem to use it, and I believe that that’s why half the beads are missing, the pouch has lost its zipper slider, the Velcro strap is torn, and the fuzzy yellow duster is falling off.
I can’t claim the creative skills of my sister-in-law, but I do think I’ll be able to get the blanket back into shape. I did manage to get out the stains made by magic markers.
The first thing I did was take it to a shoe repair shop where a new slider was fitted onto the zipper chain. Then I asked if they could also replace the Velcro, and they did that, too. Next, back home, I rummaged around in my storage area and found my kids’ old bead box and a bag of ribbons and single shoe laces. I’ve created a “bunch” of beads on the laces, with a few bells thrown in, and I’ll just have to pull out a needle and thread to attach as many of the parts as I can.
The blanket is not only useful in stimulating Mom’s senses, but it is symbolic in the way we now interact with her. We acknowledge her diminished capabilities by motivating her with child-like toys and games. We lovingly embrace her need for tactile interaction. We brighten her day as much as possible with our whole-hearted creativity.
Perhaps it’s not much in the scope of one person’s day. If we consider she sleeps for roughly 12 hours out of 24, our visits still constitute only a fraction of her awake time. Mom’s sense of time is non-existent. For her, there is no difference between a five minute and a five hour visit. Yet, daily contact and interaction is not only important, but essential—for her, and for us. Right now it is the best we can do.
Creativity in the kitchen is my way of not only coping, but remembering Mom’s cooking heydays. Different, creative, by-the-seat-of-your-pants cooking. And when it’s cold and rainy out, the only thing I want to eat is soup. Sometimes that’s just the way it is.
White Bean Soup
Serve this soup with toasted garlic bread. Perfect for a cold and blustery evening.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
Two stalks celery with leaves, diced
2 cans 550 gr / 15 oz white beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
¼ - ½ tsp cayenne pepper flakes
4 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
Chives, chopped for garnish
In a large pot over medium heat, sauté onions and garlic until onions turn translucent. Add celery and spices. Allow spices to cook and become aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add beans and water. Let soup come to a boil, then simmer for an hour. Turn off heat and blend soup right in the pot. Serve hot and garnish with chives. Makes 4-6 servings.