Updated: Jan 3
Visiting Mom is still a daunting experience. I thought I’d be immune by now to her inability to connect with us. But upon leaving her facility, whether I’m by myself or with my dad, I often feel completely drained.
There are those soaring moments when we sing together. Or when I get her to laugh at some nonsense joke. Sometimes I call her out for her foul language and she giggles with me as I gently upbraid her for referring to the nurse as an unmentionable name.
Mostly, though, she is distant and incapable of holding any type of “normal” conversation. She turns inward and I have no idea of what or how she thinks of her surroundings.
I tell myself these visits are for her not me, that it doesn’t matter if I get anything out of it, that the idea is to help her rise above the limiting circumstances that have placed her there in the first place. But it’s not that simple. I try my best to slough it off and move forward. There are whole afternoons when I can actually push aside my thoughts of her and not wonder how she is or if she’s being treated well.
Those, unfortunately, are few.
Perhaps, with this first day of the new year—the new decade!—I should start anew. Perhaps I should renew the promise I made to myself to visit her regardless of the outcome. Mom won’t know if its 1940 or 2020. She won’t know that another day has passed or that I’ve been in emotional turmoil over our visits. If I’m lucky, she’ll still recognize me and ask me where I’ve been as if I’ve just gone out for a quick few minutes and returned in time for tea. And if I’m very lucky, she’ll lock eyes with me and find that inner joy in singing and chatting with someone who cares about her, who she intuitively knows cares about her.
Maybe Mom’s reality is the one that counts. Maybe it’s time to redefine what normal is. In her current state, what is normal for Mom is her normal. The room where she sleeps, the table where she eats, the noise of the other residents, the droning TV, the wide windows, the strips of sun that slant across the tiled floor, the comfortable chairs she sits in for hours, having her diaper changed, reading kids’ books, listening to music. She still has emotional and personal needs that we all have as living, breathing human beings. She eats and sleeps, cries and laughs, angers and shows remorse. As we all do. As we strive to do.
My dad called a friend this week whose husband finally succumbed to his Alzheimer’s. This man was diagnosed around the same time that Mom was, though his descent was more rapid. It gave me pause to hear this news. My mom is still here with us, and she is physically pretty healthy. As the New Year is ushered in, I must remember to be thankful for her presence. My mom is still here, diminished though she is, and I have the privilege of seeing her. I shouldn’t squelch the enthusiasm I feel in going to visit her, but I also must try to protect myself emotionally. I must prepare myself for my mission: engage Mom and elevate her in her reality, her "now." That’s what it’s all about.
This week I was inspired by the vegan dishes that my friend Andrea served us at her Shabbat table. While I mostly eat vegetarian meals during the week, I am by no means vegetarian and definitely not vegan. But I love being adventurous in my kitchen, and realizing I had all the ingredients needed for the tofu meatballs Andrea had made us, I decided to follow her recipe. These firm, smoky-tasting meatballs are amazing.
Ginger Glazed Tofu Meatballs*
We were served these extraordinarily tasty meatballs at our friend’s house on Shabbat, and I was so enamored of them, I asked for the recipe. I’m guessing they’d be great in a sweet and sour sauce or even with a pomodoro sauce. But the ginger glaze adds tremendous depth to their flavor.
1 pkg 300 grams / 10 oz tofu, drained and cubed
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1¼ cup breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp almond or soy milk
1 Tbsp barbecue sauce
Pepper to taste
Optional: 1 Tbsp ground flax seeds, 1½ tsp egg replacement powder (plus water as per directions), 1 Tbsp humus or rice flour, or 1 Tbsp bran flakes
¼ cup chilled water
1 Tbsp potato starch
¼ cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar (or regular)
2 Tbsp date honey
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
Preheat oven to 375° F / 190° C. Place tofu, mushrooms, onion, garlic, bread crumbs, flax seeds (optional) and liquids in a food processor and pulse until ground. Form walnut-sized balls and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning half way through. While the balls are baking, combine soy sauce, vinegar, date honey and oil in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Dissolve starch in water and slowly stir into pan until sauce thickens. Serve meatballs on bed of rice with vegetables. Spoon on sauce and garnish with chives and sesame seeds.
*Based on this recipe.