The Kindness of Death
Sometimes death is a kindness. That’s what I was thinking when my dad and I attended the funeral of a gentle soul who had been battling Parkinson’s for the last 18 years and the dementia associated with Parkinson’s only recently.
The dementia had changed his personality. Caretakers fled from his violent outbursts, and his wife was forced to place him in a care facility. Their lives were topsy-turvy, their emotions in turmoil. His end was sudden and unexpected, one of many complications that dementia patients often experience. As his family and friends expressed in their eulogies, now he is in eternal rest.
The finality of death will allow this family to heal, to remember their husband/father in his glory days, and to move forward with their lives.
In truth, Daddy had never met the man who died, though he knew his wife from their Caregiver’s Support Group. I, on the other hand, had known him for many years. And if my dad had met him in this last year of his life, my dad would have met a different version of him, a diminished version, though still himself to his family.
Those of us who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s, by far the most common form of dementia, are in a constant state of mourning. We are in stasis as we watch the slow degeneration of the person we love.
Despite this, I cannot imagine wishing to hasten my mom’s death. She is full of joy, of smiles, of laughter and love. She is very much alive, even as she is simultaneously absent.
Mom was in top form when we visited her before the funeral. She was happy to see us. She actively walked with us around the corridors, and danced an impromptu dance with my dad to some Scottish music. Daddy had the bright idea of awarding her with a kiss each time she stood up from her chair, thereby getting her to exercise her leg muscles. I think she managed to sit and stand five times in succession! We swung our feet to swing music and sang along to the melodious voice of Ella Fitzgerald.
Do I paint an overly rosy picture of our visit? I hope so. It’s what I choose to focus on.
I can also tell you that Mom talked a streak of nonsense. She didn’t remember the names of friends she’s known since her teens. She had trouble remembering words to a specific song. And her voice was far from melodious, I am saddened to report.
These things just don’t really matter.
We left her with a piece of paper and some markers on which Daddy had written her name and drawn a flower. Mom was intently and intensely focused on the task of copying her name, so much so that we didn’t even bother to say goodbye to her. She was cocooned in her own version of reality, watched over by caring professionals who continuously take care of her basic needs.
Daddy and I will be back tomorrow to visit. I see it is an investment on our part in drawing out Mom’s former self that is hidden by the disease. We know she’s still in there. And we love connecting with her.
Now that Passover is over, we can eat cake made with flour! I’m glad to have it back. This is my favorite time of the year in Israel, despite its sadnesses. Next week we commemorate back-to-back the nadir of Israeli history and its highlight: Memorial Day and Independence Day. And tonight we remember the terrible horrifying tragedy of the Holocaust. I have arranged a talk by a dear, sweet woman who survived the war in hiding in rural France. She has told me her story previously, and my children, each in succession as they visited Poland with their high schools, lit memorial candles in Auschwitz for her mother and brother.
What I mean to say is that this time of year brings out the true Israeli spirit in Israel’s citizens. Flags blossom from each flagpole, lights are strung on buildings, the soon-to-be summer air hums with vitality, and watermelon is sold everywhere. These are the events that have shaped our being, our very becoming. We mourn and laugh together in an inexplicable harmony of silence and noise.
And, so, I baked a cake.
Blue and White Cake
This basic recipe for white cake is one I’ve been using for years to make my kids’ birthday party cakes. It works!
2¼ cup flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
½ cup margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk or milk substitute
Blue food coloring
½ cup margarine, softened
¼ cup milk or milk substitute
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350° F / 180° C. Cream softened margarine and sugar, then stir in vanilla, eggs, and milk (or substitute liquid). Add flour, salt and baking powder to bowl and stir until well blended. Separate the batter into two bowls. Add several drops of blue food coloring to one bowl and stir until desired color is attained. You can either bake the two colored cakes separately in two baking pans, or, layer them within a cake pan. Bake for 30 min. if you have two small cakes, or for 45 minutes if you have one large cake. While cake is baking, cream margarine and sugar for icing, slowly adding the vanilla and milk (or substitute) until a creamy consistency is achieved. When cake is done, let cool completely. If you choose two separate cakes, ice the top of one, then stack them before icing the whole cake. To make blue sugar, add a few drops of food coloring to 1 cup sugar then mix with a fork until sugar turns blue. Happy Independence Day, Israel!