A Shrinking World
It is amazing how small our worlds can shrink when we are ill—physically, emotionally, even intellectually. While I move back and forth between my own reality and Mom’s, Mom exists only in her own reality.
In Mom’s case, she is stuck physically in a small building. There’s the activity room, the hallway to her bedroom, the path to the dining room, and back again. The activity room is often a misnomer. Mom does participate in the physiotherapy—throwing and kicking balls to music—but the games like sticking stickers on a page or connecting magnet blocks, are often beyond her. Often, she sits quietly with a glazed look on her face.
When we visit, Mom becomes much more animated and chatters away, sometimes incessantly. Her intellectual world, though, has contracted even more than her physical world. She no longer reads or watches TV programs. She is unaware of time passing. I know she still has a range of emotions, and thankfully love is one she still feels. On the other hand, she is often angry at being where she is. To what extent is she aware of her surroundings? While that’s really hard to gauge, my theory is that she sees all the wizened faces of the other residents and because she conceives of herself as young and beautiful, she resents being with these strange “others.” There is also one particularly sour-faced attendant whom she constantly berates.
Music is Mom’s only window to the outside world. It allows her to tap into dormant memories, and transports her from her small surroundings often in unbridled joy.
Even as we talk and sing together, laugh and rub noses or draw together with colored pencils, Mom keeps up a patter of conversation. And occasionally into her jumbled word salad come full, coherent sentences. Or, at least mostly coherent.
“One day I’ll find out where I belong.”
“Where are those books?”
“You’re so beautiful, I love you!”
“I haven’t even felt the flies.”
“I accidentally feel ‘yuck.’”
Mostly, I try to follow her conversation as much as possible, asking questions, throwing in compliments, suggesting alternative words when she gets stuck. Those moments of clarity are painful as they exacerbate the subsurface guilt I feel at Mom’s singular existence in a care facility. I have to remind myself that her life at home was no picnic, and that both my dad and I were overwhelmed by the emotional toll of caring for her.
Instead, I try to focus on those moments when we do connect.
“I love coming to visit you,” I told Mom as I was getting ready to leave.
“I’m not here,” she responded.
“Where are you?” I asked, both dismayed and curious to know how she’d answer.
The answer she gave was unintelligible. She spoke of a place called the “si fent,” and I could no longer follow her rambling speech. As it was nearly lunch time, I stayed with her until she was seated at the table in the dining room. Then, as she began spooning soup into her mouth, I quietly walked away.
I am not deterred by this difficult turn of phrase. It makes me more determined to keep visiting and to alleviate, even momentarily, Mom’s sense of otherness.
Pomegranates are a symbol of the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah. They are said to contain a symbolic 613 seeds, which is the equivalent number of mitzvot or commandments that we learn in the Torah. They serve as a sign of fertility and righteousness and they animate our blessings: “May our merits increase like the pomegranate (is full of seeds).” If each one of us is like a pomegranate, then so is Mom. I envision her as a husk containing sparks of self-consciousness that allow her to connect with us in our reality, which in turn helps us to continue to bond with her.
Pomegranates also liven up many dishes for Rosh Hashanah. Try this Pomegranate Chicken on your guests. It will be a feast for their eyes and their stomachs!
This recipe calls for crushed almonds. There is a tradition not to cook with nuts on Rosh Hashanah because the numerical value of egoz or nut is close to that of the word for sin, het. Other opinions say that nuts that have their own name, for example, almonds (shaked), are exempt from this tradition. Take it how you will.
2 whole chickens, cut into eight pieces
6 Tbsp pomegranate syrup
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp tomato puree
1 Tbsp date honey
1 tsp cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
2 red onions, cut into wedges
Fruit from one pomegranate
¼ cup almonds, chopped
3-4 sprigs parsley, chopped
Combine pomegranate syrup, oil, tomato puree, honey, cinnamon and salt and pepper and spread over chicken. Marinate chicken overnight or at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400° F / 200° C. Place chicken in a large pan. Toss on onions and roast for 40 to 50 minutes until chicken is browned and juices run clear. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, almonds and parsley. Serve.
Based on Tesco’s recipe for Sticky Pomegranate Chicken.
Please note that I’ll be busy over the holidays with overseas guests and the imminent birth of a grandchild, b’ezrat Hashem, so I won’t be posting for the next few weeks. See you “acharei hachagim!”