Mom was sitting in her usual seat when I entered the common room at her care facility. She was intently “playing” with a game matching shapes and colors—one of the first times I can recall that she was so engaged by an activity. She looked up at me when I said hello.
“Is that me?” she asked, staring into my face.
Mom and I do look alike, but for her to think that another individual shares her identity was very weird. How was I supposed to respond to that?
“Ha ha ha,” I laughed. “We do look alike, don’t we? But I’m Miriam.”
“Oh, Miriam,” she gushed, grabbing my hand, “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“I think we should get married, don’t you? Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“That would be lovely,” I said, sitting down next to her.
This was clearly a perfect prompt for a song! So, I started singing. We began with “Get Me to the Church on Time,” from My Fair Lady, then morphed into other upbeat songs that she loves, including, “I’ve got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.”
There were other moments of eccentricity—and laughter—in that short visit, but this is the part that still resonates with me. Has my identity morphed with hers? I am my mom in so many gestures and physical similarities, thoughts and memories. I am her memory keeper. Her strengths are my strengths, likewise her weaknesses.
And I am myself, as distinct from her as I can be.
Mom was a brave, caring mother who gave me unconditional love and helped me to individuate. There were many times in my childhood when I would have preferred to distance myself from her: she spoke in a funny British accent and she was a worry-wort, among what I considered to be her worst faults when I was young. Oh, and she was always so damned cheerful.
When she was diagnosed, I chose to close any gaps that may have existed between us by visiting on a weekly basis. This was the start of our journey that has pushed me to express myself in poetry, in cooking, in the creation of a book and blog. And it has compelled me to connect with Mom in any way I can.
It is my turn to give back to her the constant, unconditional love that she bestowed on me. This is my opportunity to honor her in all of Alzheimer’s crazy permutations.
I was challenged this week to make tomato sauce from scratch rather than rely on canned crushed tomatoes. I like challenges. They keep me on my toes; they keep me honest. And so, I dutifully chopped all my tomatoes, figured out which spices to add and in what amounts (though that’s still a little difficult to pin down), and got to cooking. The result is a full-bodied chunky sauce with a terrific flavor.
Home-made Tomato Sauce
I learned to chop tomatoes the Israeli way when I lived on kibbutz in the 1980s. Slice deep into the tomato almost down to the base but be sure you don’t detach the slice. Make four or five cuts in one direction in this manner. Now slice the tomato from the other direction, again making sure that the slices are deep but don’t go all the way through. Turn the tomato on its side and naturally slice the tomato into cubes.
6-8 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 Tbsp concentrated tomato paste
300 gr / 10 oz package fresh spinach leaves, chopped
2-3 tsp dried basil and oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté garlic and onion in oil, then add tomatoes when onions become translucent. While tomatoes are simmering, add spices and paste. Stir. Add chopped spinach and cover pan to allow spinach to wilt. When spinach is cooked, stir and let simmer for about 40 minutes. Feel free to add more spices than what’s called for here, and in larger amounts.