My mom seemed sluggish today during our visit: eyes half closed, a slurring of words.
“I used to love you,” she said, part of her almost unintelligible word salad.
We were sitting together at one of the tables in the main room. The occupational therapist was handing out different projects to the residents. One woman was gluing small colorful sticks onto a piece of cardboard, another sticking small round stickers onto a patterned paper, a third reading the newspaper and tearing out indiscriminate sections.
“I love you now,” I replied, kissing her forehead. “I’m so happy to be with you.”
I opted to help Mom with a sticker project. We were handed four pages of colorful circle stickers and a corresponding page on which to stick them. Except that Mom had no concept of how to do this, even when I showed her how and broke the task into easily manageable steps. I tried talking her through it. I even placed a sticker on her fingers and had her help me press the sticker on the page.
So we moved to colored pencils. I placed one in her hand and showed her how to color in the circles on the page. She was able to make a few lines within the circle. Then I spelled out her name and my name. She concentrated on reading them, then with her pencil copied some of the letters. In one intense and painfully slow flourish, she wrote “mem/exerziz,” which she told me was Miriam and exercise. (I hope she’s not hinting at anything!)
I mentioned my distress at Mom’s lack of ability to the occupational therapist, Margalit, who promptly brought out a painting Mom had painted the day before. Painting is easier, it seems, and Margalit told me how Mom had been enchanted by the bloom of paint on paper, bright colors melding into one another.
As we sat there together, there were so many thoughts swirling in my head.
Here’s one: If I contemplate the growing intellectual prowess of my three-year-old grandson, Mom’s inability to stick stickers on a page makes me weep inside for all she’s lost. Yes, a three-year-old would definitely excel at this project.
And another: I am happy to be with her, to share the “now” moments, to bring her out of her dementia fog and interact, no matter how small the dividends. But I take home the aching sadness at leaving her there knowing she’ll quickly slip back into that fog without stimulation.
And even this radical thought that will not go away: It would be so easy to walk away; I’m more content when I don’t visit her.
I’m shocked I’ve even written this.
This is so unlike me, I don't know what to do with myself. I cannot let that idea worm itself inside me. I will not allow it to take residence in my heart. I must somehow rid myself of the mournful tears and self-pity. Mom is teaching me the lesson of honoring our parents, and I cannot fail her now.
Mom and I kept up a banter while she struggled to form letters and concentrated on her project.
“I still love you! I love you so much. I love every part of you!” she cried out, turning her bright smile to me.
My mother, my child. I love her so much, too.
There’s nothing to do in this situation but cry my eyes out, deep chest sobs that resound in the silence of my house. And when I’m done, I head for the kitchen to make dessert. It doesn’t matter much what I make, though I am partial to chocolate and peanut butter. It just has to be sweet thick batter that offers brief comfort while I regroup.
What I like about these apricot bars is how easy they are to make. A little sugar, a little chocolate, and the sweet taste of summer fruit. Just the thing to keep the tears at bay.
¾ cup oil
1 cup brown sugar
1½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1½ cups oats
½-1 tsp cinnamon
¾ cup apricot preserves
½ cup (or more) chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350° F / 180° C. In a large bowl, mix oil and sugar then add flour, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and chocolate chips. Blend until mixture is crumbly. Pat ¾ of mixture into a greased pan either round (9 x 2 inches = 23 x 5 cm) or rectangular (11 x 7 inches = 28 x 18 cm). Spread apricot filling evenly on top, then sprinkle with remaining crumbly mixture. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven, cool, and cut into squares.