My dad is on vacation. He is, as I write, in California with my brother Simon. I am so proud of him for taking this opportunity to live his life outside the shadow of Alzheimer’s.
This journey to acceptance—and to allowing himself to travel—has taken a while. The last time he left my mom for more than a day was three years ago.
Daddy’s ability to travel has everything to do with where Mom currently lives. First, there was the acknowledgement that Mom’s symptoms were becoming more extreme and we could no longer care for her ourselves. She was unsettled whenever my dad wasn’t around, and even when he was, she would ransack parts of their apartment looking for the non-existent stairs, lash out at us in her unpredictable anger, and refuse to wash herself. Taking her to the toilet became difficult, and incontinence set in. My dad’s daily existence became tied to Mom’s untenable, unbearable, irrational, heartbreaking and impenetrable behavior.
Once we accepted this, there was the process of looking for a home that had a staff trained to deal with the absurdity and indignities of dementia. We were lucky to stumble upon a small facility very close to our home.
It’s been eight months since we moved Mom to her memory care facility. Those first few months were agonizing for me. I kept second guessing our decision, wondering if we should have tried harder to care for her ourselves. And while my mind is not always quiet about her existence in her facility without us, I know she is getting good care.
Mom has good days and bad days, as we all do in life. She has certainly calmed significantly and is more accepting of her surroundings (though that, too, depends on the given moment). And it is this stability that has given Daddy the chance to get away.
My aim is to visit Mom at least once a day, preferably in the afternoons when her time is less scheduled. Both Daddy and Simon have stressed that this is a noble goal but not one I am obligated to keep. I’m going to try, nonetheless, because it’s important to me to see Mom daily, to acknowledge that she is still with us, and to bask in her beautiful smiles.
So, Simon, have fun! Take care of Daddy. He’s yours now for the next three weeks! (Ha ha ha—howls of maniacal laughter.) Make sure he eats well, and don’t forget to kiss him goodnight. I want to hear all about his escapades.
If you don’t hear from me next week, it’s because I’ll be celebrating Purim with Mom at her facility’s Purim party. Here’s a recipe for brownie oznei haman, or hamentashen. They are super tasty—anything with chocolate generally is!—but very messy to make. Invite a young friend over to justify the hands-on cooking experience.
Brownie Oznei Haman*
It is worth the mess these "cookies" generate to make and shape them with love. (Ah!) You might want to keep a cup of water nearby to rinse your fingers and help with the stickiness. The oznei haman are easier to shape when the dough is a little wet.
½ cup coconut margarine, softened
2 cups sugar
2-3 cups flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
colored sprinkles for topping
Preheat oven to 350° F / 180° C. In a large bowl, cream margarine and sugar. Stir in eggs and vanilla, then flour, cocoa, and baking powder. If the batter is very very sticky, add more flour. Dough will be soft. Shape dough by hand into palm-sized triangles. Fill a small bowl with sprinkles and lower each triangle-shaped hamentash into the bowl to coat one side. Set on a cookie tray covered in baking paper, leaving space between them to allow them to rise. Bake for approximately 18 minutes.
*This recipe is based on “Giant Zebra Fudge Cookies,” from Kosher by Design, Short on Time by Susie Fishbein, Artscroll, 2006