We were gifted a rare interaction with Mom this week. When we called to video conference, Mom was alert and communicative. Though she reserved her best endearments for the staff with whom she interacts in her facility, she actually followed our conversation and nodded along with us when we sang to her. She told us she loved us. And as we were saying goodbye, she spoke directly to my dad and said, “Bye bye, Darling.”
How is it that such a small thing can buoy our emotions so completely? It’s the crazy times that reduce us to almost begging for a sign from Mom that she is still there, that some small spark is still alive inside her changed countenance.
I feel a deep dislocation from all that was, all that I took for granted: visiting Mom, working in an office, interacting with friends, visiting my grandchildren. There is nothing to counter the fear of catching this virus, of inadvertently passing it to my vulnerable father. And so, I try my best not to interact with the world, a world I desperately want—and need—to interact with.
Tonight marks the most mournful day in the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, where we commemorate the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. This is not some pie-in-the-sky remembrance of ancient events: One year, soon after we’d sat on the floor and read Lamentations, the book that chronicles the destruction of the First Temple, our family traveled to Italy for a vacation. While in Rome, we visited the Colosseum, a building whose construction was started in 70 CE, the year the Second Temple was destroyed. Touching its stones, I realized that had the Temple not been destroyed, it might well still be standing, though if history is accurate, money stolen from Jerusalem is thought to have financed the Colosseum’s building. We then visited the Arch of Titus, built a mere 10 years after Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem, commemorating in a frieze Titus’ ransacking of the Temple and the carrying away of the menorah. History was etched so plainly in front of us. I felt a visceral connection to my mourning that year, and it has stayed with me with each passing year.
Mom was with us on that journey. It must have been right around then that she was diagnosed. I don’t remember any significant events that would have pointed to her unraveling, though her memory even then was failing. We walked for hours through the streets of Florence and Rome, and we took pleasure in being together.
And so, I continue to search for that joy that sparks when Mom is cognizant of who we are, at least tangentially. “Husband” and “daughter” are distant concepts for Mom now. We are satisfied with the small crumbs that she has left us as we follow behind in her wake, trying to find her within the tangled forest of her mind.
What do you do with too many over-ripe bananas? I was looking for an alternative to banana bread and discovered a recipe for some of my favorite ingredients: peanut butter, chocolate and banana! If you feel compelled to eat sweet things during this crazy time, these peanut butter chocolate banana cookies were excellent.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Banana Cookies
If you’ve been fasting all day for Tisha B’Av, have a cup of tea and a few of these cookies to break your fast. Perfect.
1½ cups natural peanut butter
2 ripe bananas (depending on their size)
¼ cup oil
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350° F / 180° C. Mix together oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mash bananas and add to mixture. Stir in peanut butter. Create a small well in this mixture and add flour, baking soda and salt. When dough is thoroughly combined, stir in chocolate chips. Make small dough balls and place on a lined cookie sheet, flattening each one with a fork before baking. Bake 10 minutes in a hot oven. Let cool and then eat them!
Photo by Liora Green