I’ve visited Mom every day this week, and I am loving the continuity that these visits bring. She is not always easy to interact with, but there were some marvelous moments, like the afternoon they had animal therapy. One little bunny kept crawling up Mom’s chest and snuggling, and I was so pleased to see Mom cuddle it back. The animal handler also had a huge tegu lizard with him which didn’t seem to faze any of the residents but provoked fright in some of the workers. I estimate from holding it that it must have weighed at least 20 lbs (about 10 kilo). Wow, was that fun!
Mostly, though, our visits have involved getting Mom to stand up from her chair and take a walk with me along the corridors. I try to find a more private place to sit so that the droning TV doesn’t distract us from singing together. Then we spend a good 45 minutes engaged in conversing and singing. Most of her conversation is hard to follow, but I love how literal she sometimes is: “Why was I was singing in the rain?” she asked.
The unusual frequency of my visits has to do with the fact that my dad is in London with his sister. My uncle is terminally ill and Daddy has gone to offer as much comfort and support as he can. I am so sad to contemplate my uncle’s passing. Life becomes horribly intense when your loved one is in that state between life and death. In my own experience, Alzheimer’s is a prolonged visit to that interminable place, but the decline—for us at least—occurs in starts and stops and is nowhere near its apex. There is both heartache and comfort in that.
Which means I’ve made it my responsibility to check up on and interact with Mom each day. It is a relinquishing of myself to be with Mom in the now where pretense and artifice and the tension of having other things to do falls away. What I am left with is the pure intent to impact as positively as I can on her emotional state in the moment. For her sake and for mine.
I can’t say it always works. There are times I’d rather be anywhere else than visiting Mom in her facility. The difficulty in connecting, the monotony. And those throw-away lines that batter my heart: “Don’t go,” she said as I was leaving.
I’ll be attending the annual Chanukah party at Mom’s facility next week without my dad. They seem to hire the same singers for every party. Not that any of the residents remember. I don’t mind either as the singer has a fantastic voice and I know what to expect. Last year, Mom was so tired she fell asleep in the middle of all the noise and hoopla and I had to ask one of the staff to help me get her to bed. I’ve only been with her a handful of times when she goes to sleep. How efficiently they change her and pivot her into the bed. It is a comfort and a treasured moment to tuck her in and stroke her hair and watch as the night relieves her of her terrible agitation. Then there is silence and blessed serene sleep.
I told Mom I’d be back to visit “later,” which is true. It might be tomorrow or the day after. But I will be back.
Chanukah starts next week! It falls at the tail end of one Jewish month and the beginning of the next which means that the moon is virtually invisible. The candles that we light during this Festival of Lights is a bright light in the midst of the darkness illuminating the idea that we can vanquish the dark both physically and spiritually. I think of my visits with Mom as pushing away the darkness that Alzheimer’s creates and brightening up an otherwise bleak existence.
Chanukah is also a time to eat foods fried in oil—once the source of our lights—especially doughnuts (or sufganiyot as they are called in Israel, because like a sponge, a sfog, they absorb oil). The bakeries here have created the most amazing displays of doughnuts imaginable. They all look so tempting, which is why I’ve stayed away from them. I might surrender and eat one this holiday, but in the meantime, I’ve created my own take on the traditional jelly doughnut.
Baked Jelly Doughnuts
Makes approximately 24 doughnuts.
If you’re looking for a healthier doughnut, there are options. In fact, eating a home-baked jelly doughnuts is a lighter experience than eating one of those store-bought frosting-covered fried doughnuts, at least as far as calories are concerned.
1 Tbsp yeast
¼ cup sugar, divided
¼ cup warm water
3½ cups flour
1 cup almond (or soy) milk, warmed
3 Tbsp oil
1 cup strawberry jam (or other filling)
Proof yeast by placing yeast in a mixing bowl with half the sugar and ¼ cup warm water. When yeast is frothy (about five minutes), add flour to bowl, making an indentation for the egg, oil and warm milk. Knead until a dough forms, adding more flour if needed. Coat with a thin layer of oil and let rise in a warm place until doubled, approximately 1 to 2 hours. Punch down dough and shape into small balls, about the size of a large walnut. Place on a cookie sheet covered in baking paper. Cover with a towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake at 375° F / 190° C. Remove from oven and let cool. Using a small syringe (like those found in children’s liquid medicines), squirt up to 2 Tbsp of jelly (or other filling) into each doughnut. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Warm before eating.