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  • Miriam Green

Words, Words, Words


The staff at Mom’s care facility speak several languages, none of them English. All of them speak Hebrew, but many are native Russian, or Arabic speakers. Even those with mother-tongue Arabic speak some Russian as most of the residents are Russian. It helps to know how to say certain phrases like sit down, stand up, drink, etc.


Some of the staff has a rudimentary understanding of English words. One of the more engaging staff members loves to say “Yes!” to everything Mom says. She does it with such enthusiasm that Mom is more often than not in a good mood when they “talk.”


Mom, however, is not always in a good mood, and her English is quite spicy when she’s angry. When I visited yesterday, the staff peppered me with questions. What does “bloody hell” mean? And “stink?” And, “shmuck,” which is Yiddish?


I actually started to laugh. First, it suggested to me that Mom was aware enough to decry the invasion of her privacy. Second, Mom still has an ability to recall words and phrases that she uses in context. Good for her, I thought, for trying to protect herself. I delicately decided not to translate “shmuck,” for the Bedouin staff.


I have heard stories of some of the other residents lashing out at their caregivers, but Mom is one of the most consistent in terms of her episodic aggressive behavior: she still doesn’t like to be dressed or undressed or have her diaper changed.


The staff have little time for chit-chat because they have 20+ residents that they must take care of. This is one of the disadvantages of being in an institution. There is less time for one-on-one talk and persuasion. The staff does what it has to competently and without malice. I have seen them effortlessly pivot Mom into bed even as she exhaustively converses with them. And yet, I’m not sure any amount of talking could persuade Mom to step into the shower or pliantly accept her pants being pulled down.


My dad and I accompanied Mom to have her nails cut. How wonderful that they have a trained individual to care for the nails of the residents. At first, Mom wanted nothing to do with the manicurist. I think she literally thought the woman was going to cut her fingers off. She stubbornly hid her hands and Daddy had to massage one open slowly and carefully in order for the woman to do her job. When she realized it didn’t hurt to have her nails trimmed, Mom visibly relaxed.


It made me realize that though we don’t care for Mom physically anymore, our presence does have an impact. Would it help if the staff knew Mom’s favorite songs and could sing with her when she became stressed? Probably. But we don’t have the luxury of finding out.

And so we’re back to square one, which is the fact that Mom is in an institution; that from what we’ve seen, the staff are competent and caring; that we could not do any better—and probably would do significantly worse—bathing and changing her if she were in our care; and that our visits are about connecting to her as best we can in an effort to alleviate, even briefly, Mom’s static existence.




This winter has seen some exceedingly cold and rainy days in Israel. Perfect weather for full-bodied soups to “warm your cockles.” That was always one of Mom’s expressions. She’d make soup for us when we were little and tell us it would “warm your cockles.” Yeah, I’m not sure what they are either, but this lentil soup is sure to warm your cockles, too.


The recipe for this lentil soup is in my book, The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver (which you are all encouraged to purchase!!). I even thought about teasing all my lovely readers with just the photo and suggesting that if you want the recipe, you’ll have to buy the book. Instead, here’s a “taste” of what the book has to offer. Sage advice about Alzheimer’s, and amazingly tasty recipes.


Lentil Mushroom Soup

My husband Jeff is our family’s soup-maker extraordinaire. His chicken soup is a dark mix of finely chopped vegetables and spices that explodes with taste. And you should try his matza balls! He has allowed me to share this “secret” recipe for lentil soup that he formulated after several trials, which we all ate enthusiastically. There is a subtle earthy taste to this thick textured soup. So good you’ll want seconds.


4 cups red lentils

4-5 cups mushrooms, sliced (preferably porcini or other strong-flavored mushrooms, but button mushrooms work, too)

1 19-oz / 550-gr can precooked chickpeas, drained

2 onions, chopped

3 carrots, chopped

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp brown sugar

3-4 bay leaves

½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp dried oregano

Pinch of thyme

Salt and coarse black pepper to taste

Water as specified in directions


Directions:

In a large pot, cook mushrooms in 4 cups water. Let cool and puree in a blender along with garbanzo beans. Cook lentils plus an additional 4-6 cups water. Add other vegetables and spices. Add pureed mushrooms and chickpeas back to the pot. Bring to a boil then simmer for up to 4 hours (or more) stirring occasionally.

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