Posts Tagged ‘family’

Appreciating the Power of Love

swans“How long have you been together?” the younger couple asked Ron and me.

“Twenty-two years,” we answered.

“Wow!” they said. They’d been in love for seven months and our decades-long romance must have seemed exotic and slightly unbelievable.

“What are the secrets of a good relationship?” they asked. “Please share your wisdom.”

First, Ron and I basked in the idea that two people believed we possessed actual wisdom! Then we shared our insights.

How We Learned about Love

Our insights came from growing as individuals and as a couple during our wonderful long relationship and from earlier relationships that had helped us become our true selves.  We also learned from watching our parents maintain their relationships in the face of dementia.

When Ron’s father Frank was in a memory care unit, Ron’s mom Mollie told her husband, “I love you so much.” Frank replied, “Not as much as I love you!.” lionsThose were some of Frank’s last words and that sentence stayed with Mollie through and beyond her grieving.

During my growing up years, my father was circumspect in declaring his love for Mom. But when she slipped into dementia, Dad showed me what a true romantic he was.  He treated her like he was courting her; he showered Mom with compliments and kisses and frequently he expressed his love for her. Even when she could no longer talk, she still enjoyed her favorite foods—he faithfully fed her sliced strawberries and chocolate candies.

Love Me Tender, Make Me Laugh, Always Have My Back

My parents were my role models and I also learn an enormous amount from the couples I interview every week for the love story column I write for the Kansas City Star Magazine. Here are some of the qualities people most love about their life partners and spouses.

Loves me just as I amlaughing

Takes care of me/Always has my back

Makes me laugh

Shares my values/ Complements me

Works hard/ Is honest and reliable

Always puts other people first/ Always puts me first

Inspires me to be better/ Appreciates me

Love Lights the Way

Some months ago, Oprah had author, visionary and cultural mid-wife Jean Houston on her TV show. “What do you wish people knew?” Oprah asked Jean.

“I wish people knew how powerful love is,” Jean answered.

That was one of the grandest lessons from my journey with my mom through her dementia: the power of love. Her love lasted all her life, far beyond her memory of things and people. Her love was a spark that lit up her life and mine.

sparkDeborah is the author of Love in the Land  of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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The Ways the Cookies Crumble

cookie invitationI set my briefcase on my gritty kitchen counter and traced the raised gold lettering on the thick ivory card. “You are Invited to a Holiday Cookie Party,” the note read. The invitation was from a fascinating, creative, high–powered executive I had met several months ago. I was surprised and thrilled that she had invited me to such a gathering.

Each woman would bring a batch of home-baked cookies, she wrote. We would then get to sample all the cookies and bring a bag of treats home to our families. I adored the idea of getting to bring my teenage daughters such an array of home-baked sweets. I envisioned a room filled with charming baskets of star-shaped sugar cookies, generously topped with red or green frosting. I imagined a jolly basket of Santa cookies and a fragrant ginger-scented array of reindeer cookies. I fantasized about thumbprint cookies, shaped like snowflakes and gooey with jam, and about silky buttery sandies melting in my mouth. And…

cookiesThen I realized the implication; these holiday cookies would not only need to be beautiful, creative, and delicious, they would need to be presented in festive and unusual ways. I had never really made anything other than the occasional clumpy chocolate chip, peanut butter, or oatmeal cookie. Why hadn’t my mother been a more glamorous baker, I fretted, as I rummaged in the refrigerator for something to make for dinner. She only made the plainest of cookies—date crumbs, peanut butter, and chocolate chip. As I boiled water for pasta and heated up the jar of marinara sauce, a number floated into my head and I dialed it.

“If I go to this party, will you help me with a recipe and a cute idea for presenting the cookies?” I asked my friend Judith, who was graced with five-star baking abilities.

“Of course,” she said. Judith’s aplomb would fit right in at such a gathering. Briefly, I wondered if she could attend in my place and just deliver my treats to me.

I told my daughters the good news—in several weeks we would have our own private holiday cookie festival. Since our sweets were usually made by some giant corporate entity, they were ultra-excited.

A week later, I received a thick packet in the mail. Judith had selected a number of “easy” recipes for me. I smiled as I looked over the pictures of adorable cookies with a cute holiday twist.cookies 2 I frowned as I read through the baking instructions; each cookie demanded its own specialized pan, gourmet tool, thermometer, or esoteric ingredient.

As the day of the cookie party neared, I had no recipe, no cookies, no plan, and nothing good to wear.

That night at dinner, I said, “I don’t think I can go to the party.”

“Why not?” Sarah said sharply. She was thirteen and took promises and plans very seriously. Plus, she had a highly sophisticated taste for sweets and was looking forward to expanding her repertoire.

“I can’t just walk in carrying a paltry tray of blobby looking chocolate chip cookies.” My throat constricted and I wished I were a mother who could whip up a butterscotch soufflé from ingredients that just happened to be in my kitchen cabinets.

“Why not?” my older daughter Jessica said. Even during the holiday season, she kept to her black-themed wardrobe. She looked Gothic and serious as she said, “Everyone else will be all silver bells and fancy sprinkles. You will represent the good old- fashioned approach to the holidays; your simplicity will be refreshing.”

I took a breath and considered her words. If worse came to worse, I could always pretend I never saw those cookies before in my life.

That evening, my daughters and I made chocolate chip cookies and put them in a tin lined with aluminum foil. In honor of the season, I unearthed a shiny red bow to top the tin.

Walking into the party was like walking into a fairyland. Christmas lights lined the windows and a sparkling tree spread its branches into the living room. The dining room table looked like the December cover of Gourmet magazine. Stars, hearts, Christmas trees, snowmen, all the icons of the season were glowing with icing and sprinkles. cookies 3Some cookies were nestled in hand-made wreathes. Others shone from star-shaped or tree shaped boxes. A miniature set of reindeer surrounded a bejeweled fruitcake. A galaxy of colorful star-shaped cookies decorated a tiered silver-server. I admired each display while looking for a quiet corner where I could tuck in my tin of chocolate chips. I finally settled them between candy cane cookies and gingerbread Santa’s.

cookies 5cookies 4

My hostess offered me champagne and the conversation flowed. Then she announced, “It’s time to gather the cookies.” She had a large silver gift sack for each of us and encouraged us to take several of each cookie. As I toured the table, I sneaked a look at my humble confection. What if no one took any? What if I had to bring the whole batch home? What if… The doubts daunted me as I filled my sack with delectables.

“Who made the chocolate chip cookies?” someone asked. The room quieted and my breath quickened. As the silence spread, I finally said, “I did.”

“What an interesting idea,” someone said.

“I never would have thought of it. It’s comforting. These cookies remind me of my mother and home.”

I smiled as I put three Santas in my sack and headed for the reindeer.

That evening my daughters and I had a magnificent holiday feast, consisting of cookies, cookies, and cookies.

“Here’s the strange thing, Mom,” Jessica said, as she leaned back, sated. “Your cookies are really just as good as any of them. Not as cute, but just as delicious.”

“More delicious,” Sarah said.

I smiled, thinking that about my mom’s cookies when I was growing up. Maybe there was something about the plain old recipes offered in the plain old way, so sturdy, so unglamorous, and yet so deliciously like coming home.

cookies 6

Here’s to a sweet holiday season!

Deborah

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

Eight Steps to Help People Living with Dementia Feel at Ease during Holiday Gatherings

As we move into the holiday season, Ron and I think often of our parents who went through their last holidays with dementia: my mom Frances and his father Frank. We wanted to share the season with them in ways that felt safe, comfortable, and honoring so we gradually developed these tips. Recently, we shared them via email and had such a great response we also want to share them with you.

Several people wrote, “These tips are good for anyone, not just those with memory loss.”

tenderness

What great wisdom–to treat each person with the tenderness and consideration that we often reserve for someone going through a physical or emotional illness.

We’d like to share our tips and we’d like to learn from you: what other suggestions do you have for helping people feel connected at gatherings?

Eight Steps to Help People Living with Dementia Feel at Ease during Holiday Gatherings

  •       When you’re in a group, help the person living with dementia feel safe and comfortable by having a trusted friend or family member stay beside him or her, explaining the proceedings and fielding questions from others, as needed. 
  •         Encourage people to say their name and maintain eye contact when conversing with the person who is living with dementia.
  •         Make sure the person can come and go from the group as needed. Create a quiet space where he or she can rest — or appoint a caring person to drive your loved one home when he tires of the festivities.
  •         Have something special for them to look at, like a family photo album or a favorite magazine.
  •         Choose background music that is familiar to them, music of their era played in a style they resonate with.
  •         Prepare a few of their favorite foods.
  •         When talking to them, don’t correct or contradict or try to pull them into the current reality. Simply listen carefully and let them talk.
  •         Appreciate them for who they are right now.hands and heart

Here’s to a holiday season filled with grace, gratitude and generosity.

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

Bringing Home the Gravy

rockwell thanksgivingThanksgiving changed the year I went vegetarian. I did not mind giving up the tender, moist turkey or the savory oyster-specked stuffing. But giving up the flavorful flow of mushroom-laden gravy was quite another thing. I watched enviously as my family ladled the luscious liquids over their mashed potatoes, turkey and stuffing. As I nibbled dryly on my carrots, green beans and salad, my lower lip protruded. I felt left out and deprived.

My brother, Dan, ever alert to the pouting big sister, came up with a solution.

“Next year I will make special vegetarian gravy just for you,” Dan promised.

Years later, that special vegetarian gravy has become one of my favorite Thanksgiving rituals. I begin fantasizing about it the moment the autumn leaves turn crimson. I know that in mere weeks, my brother and his family will arrive and I will have my yearly boost of family and feasting, highlighted by gravy.

When my brother calls to tell me his travel plans, I write his arrival time and GRAVY on my calendar. The night he comes to town, we make the shopping list together, avidly discussing how many pounds of mushrooms we need for both the carnivore and vegetarian pots of gravy. I relish the early-Wednesday morning trip through the grocery store, where Dan and I and our children carefully select the foods we will be making the next day. We linger in the produce aisle, filling several sacks with gleaming white mushrooms and buying rustling yellow onions. mushrooms

On Thanksgiving Day, Dan and I and other family members spend long, luxurious hours cooking. Dan mans the stove and I manage the slicing and chopping. Together we snap, peal, slice and dice the vegetables that will accessorize the turkey. I take special pleasure in wiping clean and slicing the mushrooms, then bringing my brother the brimming bowlful. When he has nodded his approval, I get out the old copper pot I bought in Germany in the early seventies. This year, Dan is improving his already amazing gravy. With his new immersion blender, he creates a rich base of caramelized onions, whose flavor surpasses that of the lowly vegetable cube. He adds in a little flour, then gentles the mushrooms into the onion broth. When the pot is bubbling with thickening nectar, he says, “Taste this and see what you think.”

I always think the same thing—“Wow, this is great.”

We are in a state of giddy and satisfied exhaustion by the time our guests arrive. We share grateful prayers with everyone and lay out the feast, including plenty of turkey-based gravy for the rest of the family.gravy

Then comes the moment I have been waiting for: I sit down, my own personal pot of gravy poised by my plate. I cover the mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, and salad with the aromatic concoction and I savor every bite. But more importantly, I savor the bounty, creativity, and love that have gone into this simple dish. Through this gravy, my brother speaks with his hands and his heart, saying: “I care about you and I am going to make sure you are not left out and that you have something fantastic to eat.”

For that and so much more, I am thankful.heart gratitude

…………

And now, if you’d like to bring home this delicious gravy, here’s how:

Dan Barnett’s Chicago Style  Never-Enough-Mushroom Vegetarian Gravy

Ingredients

2 large onions (chopped)

2 pounds (or more) white button mushrooms sliced (can add some portabellas for enhanced flavor)

1 cup of white wine (of lesser quality)

Salt & pepper to taste

Olive oil

Directions

To create the gravy base:

In a four -quart pot, pour a thin layer of olive oil and turn the burner on medium.

Add the onions and sauté for10-15 minutes until they are caramelized (golden brown)

Add water until the pot is about half full.

Simmer slowly for 30 minutes.

Blend the onion water mixture using either an immersion blender or by transferring the mixture to a food processor.

Once you have the gravy base

Add the 2 pounds (or more) of sliced mushrooms, white wine and fill the pot with water until it is 3/4 full.

Simmer for 30 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.  images

###

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

Six Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season When a Loved One Has Dementia

t-dayNormally, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday, a time our family gathered together at my Kansas City home. But that November, my stomach clenched at the thought of our traditional Thursday evening meal.

My mother had Alzheimer’s and the holiday would be different.  I felt alone but of course I wasn’t: there were 15 million family/friend caregivers helping the five million Americans who have dementia.

I’d been through my initial storm of denial and grief. I felt I’d been coping well with Mom’s diagnosis, focusing on offering my father extra support and trying to flow with Mom’s now spotty memory and personality quirks. But a pre-season sadness invaded me in October and I found myself dreading the alleged festivities. How could we have our usual holiday dinner, take our after dinner walks, play Scrabble and Hearts and Charades without Mom’s participation?  How could we enjoy going to movies and plays when Mom was having trouble focusing and sitting still?  And how would Mom react to the situation: would she feel uncomfortable and out of place? Would Dad feel protective and anxious? And more important, what would we have for dessert! Mom was legendary for her chocolate and butterscotch brownies, date crumbs, and bourbon balls. No store-bought cookies would compare. brownies

As I stewed over the prospect of a depressing Thanksgiving weekend, I remembered the vows I had made: I had promised I would try to stay connected to Mom throughout her Alzheimer’s journey. And I had promised to see the gifts and blessings and fun in the experience.

So I began thinking: if the holiday is going to be different, why not concentrate on making it different in a creative and connective way? Here are some ideas I used to make the holiday work for me.

  • Acknowledge my feelings of loss and grief. I wrote them down and shared them with a few friends. Just expressing myself made me feel stronger.
  • List what I would miss most during the holiday season. My list included cooking with Mom, eating her brownies and rum balls. I asked my brother, who’s a terrific baker, to make some of our favorite sweets and I set up a place in the dining room where Mom could sit next to me while I chopped mushrooms and peeled potatoes.
  • Create an activity to give our holiday a new focus. We created a simple holiday scrapbook called, “The Little Kitchen that Could,” complete with a family photo shoot and a playful script.
  • Appreciate my blessings. We started our Thanksgiving meal by asking everyone to name one thing he or she was grateful for. I continued my gratitude practice throughout the holiday season, either alone or with others via telephone and social media.
  • Take extra good care of myself.  I treated yourself as I would a friend who’d suffered a deep loss.
  • Set up a lifeline. “I’m worried about melting down,” I told my friend. She urged me to call anytime for encouragement and reassurance.

These six steps helped me enjoy my holiday and appreciate my mom just as she was. Our holiday was “different” but it was also wonderful.

gratitude

 

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

The Ways the Cookies Crumble

cookie invitationI set my briefcase on my gritty kitchen counter and traced the raised gold lettering on the thick ivory card. “You are Invited to a Holiday Cookie Party,” the note read. The invitation was from a fascinating, creative, high–powered executive I had met several months ago. I was surprised and thrilled that she had invited me to such a gathering.

Each woman would bring a batch of home-baked cookies, she wrote. We would then get to sample all the cookies and bring a bag of treats home to our families. I adored the idea of getting to bring my teenage daughters such an array of home-baked sweets. I envisioned a room filled with charming baskets of star-shaped sugar cookies, generously topped with red or green frosting. I imagined a jolly basket of Santa cookies and a fragrant ginger-scented array of reindeer cookies. I fantasized about thumbprint cookies, shaped like snowflakes and gooey with jam, and about silky buttery sandies melting in my mouth. And…

cookiesThen I realized the implication; these holiday cookies would not only need to be beautiful, creative, and delicious, they would need to be presented in festive and unusual ways. I had never really made anything other than the occasional clumpy chocolate chip, peanut butter, or oatmeal cookie. Why hadn’t my mother been a more glamorous baker, I fretted, as I rummaged in the refrigerator for something to make for dinner. She only made the plainest of cookies—date crumbs, peanut butter, and chocolate chip. As I boiled water for pasta and heated up the jar of marinara sauce, a number floated into my head and I dialed it.

“If I go to this party, will you help me with a recipe and a cute idea for presenting the cookies?” I asked my friend Judith, who was graced with five-star baking abilities.

“Of course,” she said. Judith’s aplomb would fit right in at such a gathering. Briefly, I wondered if she could attend in my place and just deliver my treats to me.

I told my daughters the good news—in several weeks we would have our own private holiday cookie festival. Since our sweets were usually made by some giant corporate entity, they were ultra-excited.

A week later, I received a thick packet in the mail. Judith had selected a number of “easy” recipes for me. I smiled as I looked over the pictures of adorable cookies with a cute holiday twist.cookies 2 I frowned as I read through the baking instructions; each cookie demanded its own specialized pan, gourmet tool, thermometer, or esoteric ingredient.

As the day of the cookie party neared, I had no recipe, no cookies, no plan, and nothing good to wear.

That night at dinner, I said, “I don’t think I can go to the party.”

“Why not?” Sarah said sharply. She was thirteen and took promises and plans very seriously. Plus, she had a highly sophisticated taste for sweets and was looking forward to expanding her repertoire.

“I can’t just walk in carrying a paltry tray of blobby looking chocolate chip cookies.” My throat constricted and I wished I were a mother who could whip up a butterscotch soufflé from ingredients that just happened to be in my kitchen cabinets.

“Why not?” my older daughter Jessica said. Even during the holiday season, she kept to her black-themed wardrobe. She looked Gothic and serious as she said, “Everyone else will be all silver bells and fancy sprinkles. You will represent the good old- fashioned approach to the holidays; your simplicity will be refreshing.”

I took a breath and considered her words. If worse came to worse, I could always pretend I never saw those cookies before in my life.

That evening, my daughters and I made chocolate chip cookies and put them in a tin lined with aluminum foil. In honor of the season, I unearthed a shiny red bow to top the tin.

Walking into the party was like walking into a fairyland. Christmas lights lined the windows and a sparkling tree spread its branches into the living room. The dining room table looked like the December cover of Gourmet magazine. Stars, hearts, Christmas trees, snowmen, all the icons of the season were glowing with icing and sprinkles. cookies 3Some cookies were nestled in hand-made wreathes. Others shone from star-shaped or tree shaped boxes. A miniature set of reindeer surrounded a bejeweled fruitcake. A galaxy of colorful star-shaped cookies decorated a tiered silver-server. I admired each display while looking for a quiet corner where I could tuck in my tin of chocolate chips. I finally settled them between candy cane cookies and gingerbread Santa’s.

cookies 5cookies 4

My hostess offered me champagne and the conversation flowed. Then she announced, “It’s time to gather the cookies.” She had a large silver gift sack for each of us and encouraged us to take several of each cookie. As I toured the table, I sneaked a look at my humble confection. What if no one took any? What if I had to bring the whole batch home? What if… The doubts daunted me as I filled my sack with delectables.

“Who made the chocolate chip cookies?” someone asked. The room quieted and my breath quickened. As the silence spread, I finally said, “I did.”

“What an interesting idea,” someone said.

“I never would have thought of it. It’s comforting. These cookies remind me of my mother and home.”

I smiled as I put three Santas in my sack and headed for the reindeer.

That evening my daughters and I had a magnificent holiday feast, consisting of cookies, cookies, and cookies.

“Here’s the strange thing, Mom,” Jessica said, as she leaned back, sated. “Your cookies are really just as good as any of them. Not as cute, but just as delicious.”

“More delicious,” Sarah said.

I smiled, thinking that about my mom’s cookies when I was growing up. Maybe there was something about the plain old recipes offered in the plain old way, so sturdy, so unglamorous, and yet so deliciously like coming home.

cookies 6

Here’s to a sweet holiday season!

Deborah

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

 

Noticing Your Own Shooting Stars: The Creativity of Being a Care Partner

Several years ago, we spent an evening in Zion National Park in Utah looking for shooting stars.

“There’s one,” someone said.star

“I see it!” someone else said.

I saw only the regular stars, which were also gorgeous but not quite as exciting.

“I can’t see any shooting stars,” I finally confessed.

“Here’s how you spot a shooting star,” our friend Ron told me. “You soften and widen your gaze and stare off into the middle distance. You’re looking at everything and nothing. That way you’re open to that sudden flash of light and movement.”

I didn’t see the flash of light from a shooting star that evening, but I did have an idea flash. Looking for shooting stars is like inviting out creativity. You open up your focus, relax, put yourself in receiving daydreaming mode and wait for something marvelous.

Three Tips for Noticing the Stars

For me, the art of being a care partner was an exceedingly creative endeavor. Much of the time was fraught with focus, dedicated to detail. But when I remembered to soften and widen my gaze, I was able to see my mom for the star she was, even when she seemed light years away.

Here are some tips for your own personal “star-gazing:”  star gaze

Sit quietly with the person who has dementia. If appropriate, hold hands.

Let go of  your history and your expectations. Appreciate her just as she is.

Open your mind and heart: be receptive to whatever flashes of light may come your way.

Tune in to the Benefits of Music: Four Noteworthy Tips

This morning, “My Girl” is playing in my head. Yesterday’s tune was “You are my Sunshine.” Music has always woven through my life, a gift from my father, who in his earlier years, worked as a DJ at various radio stations.

Music often worked its magic with my mother during her Alzheimer’s journey. This short excerpt from my story, Bringing Magic to Life, takes place in a memory care unit.

***stardust2

Rochelle sticks in another tape and soon Stardust is playing.

Mom looks up and I offer her my hand.

“Want to dance?” I ask her.

“What else,” she says, standing up.

My parents have danced to this song many times, my mother coaxing my father onto the dance floor. I hold hands with Mom and move back and forth to the music. She laughs and does the same. I twirl her, and she walks around in a jaunty little circle. For a moment, her energy and charm have returned. I feel like I have found my long-lost mother. …

***

Four Ways to Inspire Melodic Moments

Dr. Glenn Smith, a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist who specializes in Alzheimer’s disease, recently wrote about Alzheimer’s and music in the Mayo Clinic newsletter. (MayoClinic.com)

He writes:

“Limited research suggests that listening to music can benefit people who have Alzheimer’s disease in various ways.senior music

For example, music can:

  • Relieve stress
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Reduce agitation

Music can also benefit caregivers by reducing anxiety, lightening the mood and providing a way to connect with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease — especially those who have difficulty communicating.”

Here are a few of his suggestions:

  • Think about your loved one’s preferences. What kind of music does your loved one enjoy? What music evokes memories of happy times in his or her life? Involve family and friends by asking them to suggest songs or make playlists.
  • Avoid overstimulation. When playing music, eliminate competing noises. Turn off the TV. Set the volume based on your loved one’s hearing ability. Opt for music that isn’t interrupted by commercials, which can cause confusion.
  • Encourage movement. Help your loved one to clap along or tap his or her feet to the beat. If possible, dance with your loved one. senior dance
  • Pay attention to your loved one’s response. If your loved one seems to enjoy particular songs, play them often. If your loved one reacts negatively to a particular song or type of music, choose something else.

To learn more about Dr. Glenn, visit http://www.mayoclinic.org/expert-biographies/glenn-smith-ph-d/BIO-20025110

For more about the benefits of music, read Dr. Glenn’s entire article.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/music-and-alzheimers/AN02184

To see our HERO Project that features music, visit

http://thecreativityconnection.com/html/tuning_in.html

Let Go and Notice the Answers

For me, part of being a care partner is letting go of worry and control and being open to intuition and flow.  Here is a story from my life where I almost didn’t notice I was “in the flow!” Has this ever happened to you?

Opening to Answerslet go

 “Some people think it’s holding that makes one strong — sometimes it’s letting go.” -Unknown 

Driving to the writer’s conference, my hands were sweating and my throat was tight. I had given workshops before, but I felt very nervous about this one. What if I had nothing to say? What if nobody learned anything? What if they looked at me with bored and indifferent eyes?

As I drove down 55th street, I thought, “You have prepared and you are going to do your best. Now it’s time to ‘let go and let God.’”  I took a deep breath and felt a little better.

Then my inner worrywart boomed, “You could have tried harder, practiced more, done more research. You don’t have one original thing to say.” By the time, I pulled into the parking lot the steering wheel was damp with my sweat.worry

The conference was held in a mid-town church and the lobby was bustling with people.

“Your room is down the stairs and to your right,” the woman in charge told me.

I walked down the stairs and to the right. I saw a bathroom and a coat closet. I  opened one door into a maintenance room, stacked with toilet paper and paper towels, brooms and mops.  Then I noticed another room: tucked into an obscure corner — it was a small chapel. I walked in, taking in the serenity, the rich maroon color of the chairs, the soothing pattern of the stained glass windows. I felt calm and centered in this room.  I tiptoed to the pulpit and stood behind it, like I had something holy to say.stained glass

Then I realized, I was going to be late for my class, Frantically, I retraced my steps, but I couldn’t find any room large enough for a class. I raced upstairs and found the woman again.

“I can’t find my room,” I told her. “There’s only a chapel in that area.”

“That is your room,” she said, “You’re teaching in the chapel.”

I walked back down slowly, smiling all the way.

My prayer, to let go and let God, had been answered in a most concrete way. I had almost been too busy worrying to notice.balloon

An Alzheimer’s Holiday Blessing

As my mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed, her spiritual openness increased.

This is an excerpt from my book Love in the Land of Dementia that describes Mom’s new way of celebrating the holidays.

**

jingle bellsWe roll back into the facility’s dining room just as the show is ready to start. The singer, Thelda, kicks off her shoes and presses play on the boom box. Above the cheerful sound track, she sings Jingle Bells. She dances across the room with the remnants of ballroom steps. She stops in front of Mom and sings right to her. She gets on her knees, so she can look into Mom’s eyes, and keeps singing. Mom notices her and smiles a little.

Thelda moves on, singing to each of the patients gathered around, so intent on making a connection that she often forgets the words.

“Is it all right for your Mom to come to Christmas holiday events?” the activity director had asked me, when Mom moved into the skilled care portion of the nursing home.

“Yes, I’d like her to go to any activities. She likes the extra energy.”

challahI think Mom would approve of my decision, even though she has never celebrated Christmas. Growing up, her immigrant mother held on to the Jewish spirit of her home, kneading dough for Friday evening challah, observing each holiday and prayer period in her own way. Some orthodox women followed the religious law that commanded a small piece of the dough be burned as an offering to God. My grandmother was poor; she did not believe in burning good food, regardless of tradition. So she sacrificed a portion of the dough to her youngest daughter, my mother Fran. She created a “bread tail,” leftover dough that she baked, then smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar . When Mom used to talk about her mother, she always mentioned this special treat.

Even when I was growing up, and we were the only Jewish family in our neighborhood, my mother still did not sing Christmas song. She let the holiday rush by her, like a large train, whooshing past and leaving her behind.

Now, I am singing Christmas carols to my Mom for the first time and she is smiling. She has moved beyond the place where the religions are different, beyond the place where she wants to separate the dough and make a sacrifice for tradition. Her new tradition is anyone who can make her smile.Fran

With each song, from White Christmas, to Silver Bells, to Frosty the Snowman, Thelda moves back to Mom, tapping her, acting sillier and sillier. Each time, Mom lifts her head and widens her mouth for a second.

For her finale, Thelda puts on a big red nose and sings Rudolph. When she dances in front of Mom with that scarlet nose, Mom laughs, her face a miracle in pure enjoyment. I laugh too, so delighted to see Mom engaged and absorbed.

Two weeks from now, I will bring a menorah and candles into my mother’s room. My father and I will have a short Chanukah ceremony with Mom. She will pick at the shiny paper covering the Chanukah gelt (chocolate candy disguised as money). She will slump over in her chair. But she will come back to life when she sees me, her only daughter, wearing a big red nose as I light the menorah.menorahHere’s to a meaningful and fun holiday season.

I look forward to connecting with you when I resume blogging in early January.

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