An Open Window
I haven’t visited Mom all week, and I miss her. I’ve been sick with a bad cold, which turned out to be sinusitis, and there’s no way I wanted to expose her to it. But my dad’s also been ill. It’s the season, the cold rainy winter in Israel.
The fact that neither of us has visited Mom recently brings home to me the importance of seeing her. Not only do we check to make sure she’s healthy and being treated well but we bring her short bursts of conversation—and if we’re lucky, laughter—in an otherwise dull existence.
Mom is my constant in my ever changing landscape. Many things in my life are in flux. Our house is about to undergo renovations, so I’m busy packing and sorting through my possessions, amassed and squirreled away in this house for 25 years. And I’m about to end a job I’ve been working in for the past 18 years. That’s a hard door to close as my identity has been closely bound to my professional position: to say that I took work home would be an understatement.
I realize it is ironic to think of Mom as the steady element in my life. Someone experiencing Alzheimer's is in constant flux. Even if their existence becomes one of monotonous, limited repetition, in their minds nothing is stable or predictable.
I know I will land on my feet when this job ends. But what do I want to be when I grow up? One friend suggested I become a self-help advocate for those whose loved ones have Alzheimer’s. What an interesting idea to contemplate.
Without even processing this idea, I was privileged to have an intimate conversation with a young acquaintance whose father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than a year ago. Her parents live in a city that is far from their children and they have plans to pack up their house and move. But how do you pack when your husband/father keeps accusing you of stealing his possessions and won’t allow you to put anything in boxes?
This reminded me of when we had to cull some of Mom’s clothes from her incredibly stuffed closets. She absolutely refused to part with anything, even dresses she hadn’t worn in decades! We learned to distract her while one of us went into her room and surreptitiously packed up the unworn clothes.
"Would your father be happy to have visitors?" I asked. "Does he enjoy hobbies that he could partake in? Are there day centers in your parent’s community that he could attend? Could they move out to one of your sibling’s homes and hire someone to just pack everything up and move it to their next location?"
We went back and forth examining different ideas that might help her parents move forward without all the anger and distrust that Alzheimer’s engenders.
Moving someone with Alzheimer's is fraught with tension. How will they adjust to new surroundings? Will they realize they've moved or even remember their previous home? What do you do when they stand in their living room and state emphatically that this is not their home (sometimes even in a home they've been living in for more than 30 years)? Is there a right or wrong time to move someone with Alzheimer's?
When my mom was first diagnosed, I spoke at length with a friend about her situation with her mom. I was encouraged to ask as many questions as were filling my head, and this wonderful friend calmed me with her knowledge. She made me believe that I could handle this, that there were ways to combat the sometimes volatile emotions Mom experienced. I learned that I needed all my creativity to do so.
And here I am, on the cusp of a new adventure that might allow me to use that creativity to counsel others as they go through the process of understanding for themselves what Alzheimer’s does to a family. What a privilege that would be.
How amazing to receive a second chance to remake myself. That’s how I’m looking at this next stage in my life. I’m not sure what opportunities I’ll find, but I do know that “when the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”
Food is like that, too. Make something you love in a slightly different way and it becomes renewed. One of the staples in our house, especially during the cold winter, is orange soup made with pumpkin, carrots and sweet potato. But what happens when you add red pepper and kohlrabi and spice it a little differently? The bright orange soup this recipe produces is aromatic and rich in flavor.
I credit my son with this recipe. I’m not sure where it originated, but he got it from his Moroccan mother-in-law. And, trust me, she’s an amazing cook.
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
500 grams / 1 lb orange pumpkin, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 red pepper, chopped
1 kohlrabi, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried coriander
Water to cover (approximately 6 to 8 cups)
In a large pot, sauté onions and garlic until onions become translucent. Add chopped vegetables and pour in enough water to cover them. (For a thinner soup, add more water.) Add spices. Bring to a boil then simmer for up to an hour or until vegetables are soft. Using a hand-held blender, blend the soup right in the pot.