Sometimes there are large billboards on the side of the road that seem to scream out at you as you drive by. I felt I was passing one this past Friday when we visited Mom for her birthday.
“ALZHEIMER’S SUCKS! IT WILL STEAL YOUR TIME.” That’s what was written on my private billboard.
Sadly, Mom has no sense of what it means to have a birthday. None of the anticipation of growing older, maturing or receiving presents that kids feel, or, sometimes, even us middle-aged adults experience. She can’t mark time or record any milestone in her life. Each day is as mysterious as the one that has passed, a string of days merging into one another in a strange monotony. When even your birthday has no significance, time truly loses meaning.
I made a cake, and we went—my dad, my husband, one son and myself—to Mom’s care facility. We took candles, plates, etc., sang Happy Birthday, and Daddy helped Mom blow out the candles. There were only five of them; it didn't matter their number, they were symbolic.
My son Hillel brought his guitar. He played Beatles songs and some torch songs that Mom loves. She hummed along when the music caught her attention, when she wasn’t staring off into space, or rambling on in an endless manner, or flirting with her son-in-law. (Yes, that would be my good-natured husband.)
The best laughter was when I chastised her for using foul language to describe how she was feeling. I still can’t reconcile my polite, reserved mother with the foul-mouthed angry person she channels much of the time.
“Mom used a bad word!” I said, poking her affectionately on her arm. She giggled. I leaned in close and whispered, “Really? That’s how you really feel? You have no other words to use?”
“My hair is applicatious,” she said. Then, “I wonder what I’m doing.”
Perhaps Mom softened in that moment. I don’t know. What I do know is that we held that impromptu celebration for us, not for Mom. We are the ones marking time. Seventy-eight years on this earth, and she is still with us, hidden behind her increasingly tangled and obstructed brain. Alzheimer’s not only steals Mom’s sense of time, but it steals our time with her. We notice Mom’s transient moods, her dwindling interaction, her disjointed words. But we also see how she responds with genuine love and trust to our presence, how she lights up when we pay her attention and listen to her talk. And above all, how music still enlivens her.
Happy Birthday, Mom. We will mark the passage of time for you, and keep you close to our hearts.
It’s not often I make my favorite lemon bars, but with a tree full to bursting with huge ripe lemons, and Mom’s birthday “celebration,” it seemed appropriate. I received this recipe at my wedding shower from a family friend, a shower Mom organized with aplomb as a surprise for me. One friend arrived just seconds before me; as I saw her going in the door to the house, I called out to her thinking to say hello, thinking she was visiting Mom. Instead, when I entered right behind her, I was overwhelmed by the greetings of all my friends who had gathered for the occasion. And the lemon bars recipe? It’s a keeper.
The top of this cake bakes to a golden, flaky crust that just covers the sweet, intensely lemony filling that spills out when you slice it.
2 cups flour
½ cup canola oil
½ cup powdered sugar
2 cups sugar
6 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
Mix crust ingredients together. Pat into nine-inch / twenty-three-cm pan and bake for fifteen minutes at 350 degrees F / 180 degrees C. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, sugar, lemon juice and remaining ingredients. Pour over cooled crust and bake for an additional fifteen to twenty minutes. When cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar.