When my mom, Naomi, was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I felt relieved. The doctors had finally acknowledged what our family had surmised for almost a year—Mom was losing her memory. Okay, I thought, what now?
Little in our lives changed at first. Mom still rattled around in her kitchen, was still an avid music lover, conversationalist, and sweet companion. She could maintain her household, and even stay by herself in the evenings when my dad, Jack, was busy. But the signs were everywhere.
There was the day she tried to unlock the front door to her apartment with the wrong key. It didn’t occur to her that she should try another one, or even ask for help. I was waiting patiently on the other side as she jammed that key into the door over and over, swearing in language I had never in my life heard her utter. Daddy rushed from the shower, thinking she’d hurt herself with all the screams. It took a while to calm her down.
What did change dramatically in my life was a commitment I made to visit my parents once a week. I traveled 2½ hours each way by public transportation to be with them. Mostly, I was there for Mom. Those were wonderful mornings. We would do all manner of activities together, ambling around the city, drinking coffee, and enjoying the sunshine. I used those visits to organize my parents’ kitchen and cook them food for the week.
I was privy to Mom’s anxiety over her waning memory. I held her as she cried bitter tears and told me she felt confused. It was the first indication that our roles would soon be reversed, that I was losing my mom by degrees, that the only way forward was a painful decline that inevitably led to death.
It’s been more than seven years now. I’ve learned a few things along the way— to avoid questions in my conversations with Mom; how a person’s gait can define their ill health; that front-closing bras are an Alzheimer’s intimate friend; and how to judiciously use her memory loss for our gain.
I don’t think we can ever be prepared for the strange turns and curves life throws us, but I do know that it helps me to write about them. First came the poetry. Then, what was initially a project I started with my dad as a humorous initiation into the world of cooking and caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s—we called it “The Man’s Emergency Cookbook”—eventually morphed into its current composition. Thus were born my cookbook and my weekly blog. I didn’t need to be alone in my frustrations, fears and struggles. I could connect with the community of Alzheimer’s patients, their families and caregivers who were only a short click away.
And through it all, I cooked. I took what Mom had taught me when she was still active in the kitchen and used that as a basis to experiment with easy recipes that fed my spiritual and emotional hunger. My book, The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, is a combination of recipes, poetry, and prose about my family and how we have shared the demands of Mom’s Alzheimer’s.
Miriam Green writes a weekly blog at http://www.thelostkichen.org, featuring anecdotes about her mother’s Alzheimer’s and related recipes. Her blog also appears on the Alzheimer’s Association website, http://blog.alz.org/. Her poetry has been published in several journals, including Poet Lore, The Prose Poem Project, Ilanot Review, The Barefoot Review, and Poetica Magazine. Her poem, “Mercy of a Full Womb,” won the 2014 Jewish Literary Journal’s 1st anniversary competition. Her poem, “Questions My Mother Asked, Answers My Father Gave Her,” won the 2013 Reuben Rose Poetry prize. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University, and a BA from Oberlin College. Miriam is a 20-year resident of Israel, and a mother of three. You can find Miriam on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/miriam.green.7399, and on Twitter at @thelostkitchen. https://twitter.com/thelostkichen.