I understand it better now. We had a way of looking at and talking to Mom as if she were simple, as if the intelligent being who we knew her to be had somehow vanished. We couldn’t understand how she could get so many things wrong.
We’d act incredulous that she couldn’t comprehend the most basic things. This happened years before her diagnosis, before we’d entertained the notion that perhaps these memory lapses were a prelude to Alzheimer’s.
Except that now I understand. I understand that the brain somehow thinks the wrong thing or makes mistaken connections or simply draws a blank, leaving a gaping, terrifying hole where a thought should be. And more importantly, I hear how angry and condescending the voices of those we love can become when they see us acting foolish.
I cringe to recall that I sometimes did the same thing to Mom because I didn’t understand that she couldn’t help it. All those little mistakes. All those silly, inconsequential moments where I regarded her as unintelligent. Because now it happens to me, too.
Last week, after an enjoyable day out, my husband Jeff and I got ready to board the van to come home. As the driver started to open the door, Jeff told me to move out of the way so that I wouldn’t get hit by the door. Except that my mind froze and instead, I moved more directly into the path of the opening door. What was I thinking at that moment? Jeff quickly pulled me out of the way then rebuked me for moving towards the door. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t follow his simple instructions. I stood there wondering what had just happened. (He did subsequently apologize for his unkind response.)
It took me a while to figure it all out, and in that time, I was truly spaced out, unconnected, in another world, befuddled—whatever you want to call it. I had utterly lost the ability to comprehend what was happening. I can only guess that in those few seconds I focused on understanding “how van doors open,” and brought up the memory of them sliding to the left. Except that this van door was opening outwards to the right. The puzzle pieces of the events just did not fit together.
When Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I learned to treat her with kindness and with sympathy. Now I knew for certain that the mistakes she made in her comprehension were out of her control. Whereas she had once seemed foolish, now, with her diagnosis, she was legitimately—and unfortunately—absent-minded.
Nobody should have to wait until they are diagnosed with dementia to receive the kindnesses we deserve from our family and friends. I am hereby putting everyone on notice. If I somehow don’t understand what’s going on, help me figure it out rather than condescend to me as an intellectually lesser being. What applies to me, applies to all others as well. You are better than that, and I am more than the sum of my parts.
Cooking is the act of taking disparate elements and making something whole out of them. When my neighbor here in Beer Sheva, Tamar Genger, posted a photo of a beautiful pistachio crusted salmon, I decided to try that dish, too. Tamar is the director of Digital Media for Kosher Media Network and founder and Executive Editor of joyofkosher.com. She is one of the people who is quoted on the back of my book. Thank you for inspiring me, Tamar! Here’s my recipe for pistachio crusted salmon. It is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
Pistachio Crusted Salmon
This recipe will cover 6 or 7 individual salmon fillets. My son, who usually complains there’s nothing to eat, was so happy to find several pieces left over in the fridge.
6-7 individual salmon steaks
3 Tbsp lemon juice (best if fresh with a little pulp)
¼ tsp lemon zest
3 Tbsp mustard
3 Tbsp date honey
¾ cup pistachios, chopped
6 Tbsp bread crumbs
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place salmon fillets on an oven tray covered in baking paper. Mix lemon juice, zest (the grated rind of the lemon), mustard and honey, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Spoon over salmon fillets. Combine the pistachios, bread crumbs, olive oil and a little more salt and pepper in a blender. Pulse until ingredients form a crumbly whole. Pat on top of salmon. Bake at 350° F / 180° C for 20 minutes.