Soothing the Savage Breast
Updated: Sep 19, 2019
I was having a lovely time laughing and singing with Mom today. Most of what we talked about was nonsense, but she was in a relatively good mood.
One of the residents kept crying. It seems she had fallen and her arm was in a cast. The staff gently placed a pillow under her arm, trying to position her as comfortably as possible. The TV was playing some Russian pop music. Other residents were calling to each other, chattering, talking. The staff was conversing. It was a noisy environment, and Mom was distracted by it.
All of a sudden, Mom’s mood changed. I believe it was all the noise swirling around us that took her to a different place. She broke eye contact with me and peered at the other residents whom she began to verbally insult.
Then, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” she yelled, the word exploding from her in giggles as if she were a child and knew the word was forbidden. I laughed along with her, hoping this was a sign that her mood was changing.
It was short lived as she again became angry, clenching her teeth and spewing hateful comments.
I decided I’d try her headphones with her music to see if this would calm her. At first, she didn’t want to have them on her head. But I persisted, changing the volume, fast forwarding to a new song, trying to hear what she was hearing. I waited until the magic began to work and she started humming along to Ella Fitzgerald.
“I have to go now,” I told her.
“I love you,” she responded. “You’re my special one.”
I was truly touched to hear her say that, but I also knew it could just be a line from one of her songs.
“I love you, too,” I said as I hugged her.
I watched her for quite a while as the music slowly embedded itself in her consciousness and all other sound fell away. Even after I walked away, I turned to see her bobbing her head to the music that only she could hear.
Mom’s mercurial moods take getting used to. Obviously, I prefer being with her when she’s light-hearted. When she’s angry, I work harder to dispel those moods. We can never know what makes her angry from one moment to the next.
I’m not sure we ever truly know anyone’s internal landscape well. Maybe not even our own. What sets us off? What changes our moods? What changes them back? How much are we in control of our emotions? Are we consciously aware of what happens to us emotionally?
I know I experience mood shifts and swings. Mom used to say I was a real bear…until I met my husband. After that, she said, I changed. I became more emotionally consistent.
That’s not to say that I don’t still fluctuate between frustration, anger, joy, love. Whether it is my husband Jeff’s presence in my life, or other factors, I know I have the ability to rationally figure it out.
I believe that Alzheimer’s somehow heightens not only Mom’s emotions but her quick jumps from anger to joy and back again. And while it is disconcerting, it is something we must deal with.
At least I know she loves me.
Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching with its intense prayers and bountiful meals. As we prepare ourselves mentally for the days of awe and judgement, my thoughts drift to what we’ll be eating. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to eat specific foods whose names in Hebrew or Aramaic are used playfully in accompanying blessings. So, for the herb fenugreek, which is called “rubiya” in Aramaic, the blessing is, “May it be your will, our God and God of our Forefathers, that our merits increase.” Or, in Hebrew, she yirbu z’chuyotanu.” Notice the connection between rubiya and yirbu.
I can’t say I’ve ever knowingly eaten fenugreek. Luckily for me, carrots are also substituted for this blessing as their name in Yiddish is “mern,” which also means to increase (think “more” with an extra letter). I’m guessing that in Eastern Europe, home of my ancestors, carrots were more available than fenugreek. Here you have it, easy and tasty roasted carrots. Go for it!
I like using colorful carrots for this dish as it makes it, well, colorful. Surprisingly, purple carrots taste just like orange ones.
10-12 medium carrots, halved
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 420° F / 200° C. Wash and peel carrots. Halve carrots lengthwise (or quarter them if you think they’re too thick) and place in a large bowl. No need to cut off bottoms and tops. Add oil and spices and using your hands, mix until carrots are lightly coated in oil. Place on a baking-paper covered baking tray and roast for 20-30 minutes or until they can be pierced easily with a sharp knife.