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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Clothes Make the Woman

There is a pile of Mom’s clothes sitting in my room. It calls to me with its bright swirls of color and soft fabrics, with the intricate lace and bold designs. It is in my room because my dad and I finally culled Mom’s closet. And now I must decide what to do with these clothes.

Each item we took off a hanger invited comment and memory, and a decision to keep or give away.

“I never liked this dress,” Daddy said. Toss that one onto the give-away pile.

We worked quickly, but still the tears came. I could visualize her in some of the outfits, her energy, her radiance. Most of the clothes were quite old. We found the dress she wore for my brother Simon’s wedding (wow, was she skinny!) and the one from mine (we’ve both been married to our respective spouses for almost 30 years). Her every day comfortable summer dresses were most notable, and the many skirts in all lengths and styles. I even found the skirt that I had bought her that matched my own, a flared pencil skirt washed to a smooth softness.

One physical sign of Alzheimer’s is a gradual inability to groom or dress oneself.

Do I become my mom when I inhabit her clothing?

If I do become my mom, let it be the mom I used to have, not the mom I have now.

Even with the difficulties of accepting Mom in her current state—her Alzheimer’s self in all its funny, angry, befuddled glory—I am struggling over these clothes. Some are just my style, others are not. Do I really believe I will wear that beige top with its lace collar and front buttons? Do I save them because they belonged to her? Do I let them go, another loss in this ongoing saga? It is difficult to clear out a loved one’s belongings—even more so when she is still alive.

Today during my visit, among the many things we spoke about, Mom told me that Simon had called and had indicated that he had something she needed.

“But I don’t know where it is,” she explained.

“Maybe Simon still has it,” I suggested.

“He lied to me,” she countered.

“Simon wouldn’t lie to you.” I paused. “Did you know it was his birthday last week?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s marvelous,” she exclaimed. Then, “Does your mum enjoy it when you visit her?”

I could only nod and imply that yes, she does.

Later, in the midst of having her diaper changed—I was holding her hands so she couldn’t interfere with the process—she angrily yelled out that she was looking for the person she used to be.

To think that Mom might be cognizant of her state of mind is horrifying. I don’t know that she’d want to consciously embrace life if she knew how limiting and contained her life has become. I don’t think I would. Developing Alzheimer’s is a fear I have, one I fight by exercising, eating well, writing, reading, and loving as best I can. I try to give back to Mom some of my positive energy so as to sustain her in those bleak, mind-numbing days of hers.

I might never get rid of those few remaining dresses. They allow me to cling to my beautiful memories of Mom’s former colorful, expressive self.

Two weeks ago, after a particularly hard morning, my friend RCS (and her sister!) took me out to lunch at a sweet, cozy vegetarian restaurant. I ordered a fantastic dish with fried onion and Portobello mushrooms, black lentils and a small whole grain drizzled with tehina and date honey. Wow, was it tasty! How hard could it be to make something similar, I wondered. In my desire to not think too much about my day, I immersed myself in the kitchen and I tried to recreate the dish. I think I did a pretty good job.

Portobello Mushrooms on a Bed of Black Lentils and Burghul

The ability to create nutritious, flavorful meals that engage all my senses is a tool I use to stay active and positive. And it generally works, especially when the end product is something I’m passionate about.

2 cups Portobello mushrooms, chopped

1 onion, sliced

3-4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 cup black lentils

1 cup burghul

4 cups water, divided

¼ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

¼ cup craisins

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp tehina per serving

½ Tbsp date honey per serving


In a small saucepan, bring lentils to boil in two cups water. Simmer on low heat until water is absorbed and lentils are soft. In another small saucepan, do the same with the burghul. Meanwhile, fry onions and garlic in hot oil. When onions are translucent, add mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are tender and slightly browned. Add salt and pepper to taste. Combine lentils and burghul, nuts and craisins. For each individual serving, place a good amount of lentils and burghul on a plate, creating a small indentation in the center in which to place a heaping quantity of mushrooms. (Generally a serving is one cooked cup of combined lentils and grain.) Drizzle with tehina and date honey. Serve warm.

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Dec 04, 2019

p.s. You continue to challenge my pallet and vocabulary....I've had to google " burghul" and tehina. I wonder if I can find both where I live in WV.....hmmmm..... I see a trip to a different market than I'm used to.


Dec 04, 2019

Yes, it's painful and did the exact thing for my mother this past July. Your words" We worked quickly, but still the tears came " is identical to my and my 2 sister's experience. I did save a couple of items for myself just so I could look at and smell them. As time goes by the pain is not so severe and I've been able to focus on the happy memories they bring. I continue to pray for you and your families journey.


Dec 04, 2019

Ever since my mother passed away, I try to wear some jewelry of hers or what she once gave me to family smachot. This way she's "there," which she would have liked.

How about making pillow covers or hats out of fabric from her clothes. There are ways to use fabric, weaving, crocheting, even pictures.


Dec 04, 2019

So moving and so real. My MIL is 98, almost 99, with severe dementia. She lives with us, but she is in her own her world. I still have all her shabbat clothes, outfits she wore to grandchildren's weddings, all the beautiful colorful tops. Her red coat, her glove collection. Sometimes I just open the closet and look at it, touch the material, and just remember who she was. It gives me the strength to go on day after day, when she truly has no idea who I am. I know who she is.

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