Time in a Bottle
Recently, I’ve been struggling with the notion of time. How do I divide my time when my loved one is in an institution? Is there any specific formula that works, i.e., visits every day, or once a week, short visits or long, or at specific times of the day? It seems that it is all tied up in my thought process and in my difficulty in making decisions.
As much as I know my mom is receiving good care in her closed care facility, I also know that there are blank hours in her day when she sits vacuously at a table with the other residents. If I’m there, she becomes animated, because I pay her attention. If I’m not there, well, she basically shuts down during those times.
How’s that for applying internal pressure to be with Mom more often?
And yet, I have a whole creative, loving, fulfilling life outside of Mom’s institution, a life Mom is no longer capable of participating in. I must somehow divide my time—my self—between these two worlds.
The dilemma is two-fold. First, I must realize that my life is wherever I am, meaning, if I choose to be with Mom, that small circle of existence is also my reality for as long as I am with her. Nothing outside matters.
Second, I must be comfortable with my decision as to where I want to be. Feeling overwhelmed by the decision, or the inability to decide where to spend my time, makes me feel muddled and makes my time with Mom—or without Mom—less substantial. I am neither here nor there; my thoughts are in limbo and so am I.
The key here is this: Making a conscious final decision. It doesn’t matter how other people perceive my decisions, whether they think I’ve abandoned my mom, or, alternately, abandoned other aspects of my life. What matters is how my decisions make me feel. There is no right or wrong, never one way of seeing a situation, never a specific amount of time that should be designated to Mom or non-Mom activities.
There is an element here of honoring our parents. This is the fifth of the Ten Commandments, and while there is no official definition of honor, I think it means treating our parents with respect, and trying to do what is required for them. Which means that sometimes there are decisions that carry extra weight, and I must decide even if they make me feel bad in the short term, or the long term. Placing Mom in her current facility was one of those decisions; honoring my mom may trump my own feelings.
If I think about my own actions during a day, I notice that every day has both busy and dormant aspects to it. Sometimes I chase my own tail as I move from errand to errand. Other times I have moments of absolute solitude. Sometimes I am plodding through daily chores; sometimes I am quietly creative.
I must assume that Mom has days that are similar to mine. She has a routine that she follows that allows for the more mundane aspects of her life like washing, dressing and eating. She enjoys activities with the residents of her facility that open her to music and conversation, even laughter. Her energy levels wax and wane, as do mine.
Everyone lives their lives in this manner, involved in their own inward and outward expressions of self.
Where my knowledge falters is in imagining Mom’s internal thoughts. Does she have them? Is she aware of the world around her? Is it ok if she sits blankly at the table, sometimes for hours?
Then there’s the emotional element. Am I rejecting Mom if I don’t visit? Am I protecting myself if I stay away? It is hard to constantly mourn someone who is still alive, and sometimes, even after a good visit, one in where Mom truly interacts with me, I can feel emotionally drained. Or, I can reach the understanding that when I do visit, I am accepting and engaging with Mom as she is, but if I don’t visit, it is not a failure of my commitment or love, just a juggling of my time.
Perhaps it’s also about carving out the time from my busy schedule for what’s important. There’s that idea that if you want something done, give the assignment to a busy person; the busier a person is, the more they seem to be able to do with their limited daily hours.
I can also always change my mind, reshuffle my obligations, or modify my schedule. Nothing is set in stone.
This is all just part of my life now, how I care for and love my family, how I make commitments to be with them, how I feel both guilt and joy when dividing my time. Alzheimer’s has taught me so much about what it means to live with illness, how crucial it is to embrace kindness, compassion, laughter, love, not only towards my mom, but towards myself.
Tired of making regular old rice? Here’s a way to jazz it up with orzo or, if you’re in Israel, ptitim. Ptitim is a toasted pasta in the general shape of rice. It was created in 1953 during austerity in Israel when rice was unavailable, and it became instantly popular. Today, you can buy it in many shapes, including couscous-shaped balls and Jewish stars. It’s one of the things from Israel that I like bringing to friends in the US. This is an easy rice pilaf dish based on a recipe from the website, Life Made Simple.
Nice Rice Pilaf
This is a great way to increase the amount of rice you want to serve without doubling your recipe. Don’t be shy about adding more spices than what’s called for. Israelis like their ptitim flavorful!
1 cup long grain white rice
½ cup ptitim
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
3½ cups water
1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet, saute onion and garlic in 1 Tbsp olive oil. When onions are cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Pour in an additional tablespoon of olive oil and cook, or brown, ptitim for five minutes. Add rice and cook for an additional five to seven minutes. Add onions back into pan. Meanwhile, measure water and remaining oil and spices (except the parsley) into a large microwave-safe measuring cup. Heat on high for one minute, then pour over rice and ptitim. Stir. Bring to boil and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add parsley and continue to cook on low heat until water is absorbed and both rice and ptitim are cooked through.