Monday, May 11, 2009

What About Mother's Day?

About two weeks ago, my sister Adele asked me what we should do about Mother’s day this year. My initial internal reaction was aiieeaaah! For many years now, as many as I can remember, I have been hosting our family’s Mother’s Day brunch, sometimes to my own immediate family’s consternation because they feel that I should have a day off and be waited on and pampered myself, and they are willing to do that for me if only I would lay down and allow them to do so. For many years, my daughter, as a synagogue educational director, had to work on Mother’s Day, anyway. A very long time ago, we planned ahead, braved the crowds, and went out to eat on Mother’s Day, an experience that not one of us cares to duplicate.

This may very well be Mom’s last Mother’s Day as she is at home on hospice and her health appears to be slowly deteriorating. My daughter has a two-week old baby at home in Baltimore. My son would have to drive for at least six hours on Sunday to be here for a brunch and back in DC to be at work on Monday morning. Stacey, who helps me care for Mom, really wanted to be with her mother on Mother’s Day.

I told Adele that I would wait until the last possible minute to decide on whether to have our usual Sunday brunch. As the day approached, Ari discussed my mixed emotions with me on the phone. “What would you really like to do?” he asked. “Would you like to run away entirely and go to the seashore, perhaps?” “I can arrange it, if you say the word,” he told me. “Do you want to come here and stay over for the weekend again.” I tried searching in the depths of my soul to see if I really felt like running away, if only for a day or two, from all these pressing responsibilities. I think what I found there is that I would not have felt right running away and would not have enjoyed myself. Neither could I stay at home, lay in bed and take it easy when a lot of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would be coming to visit Mom. I let everyone know that I would decide last Tuesday, and on Tuesday, I decided to have the usual brunch.

It rained every day last week. In fact, it rained for eleven straight days. Each day, as I finished my computer work, I looked longingly out the window hoping to be able to get at least an hour’s work completed in the garden. No deal. The deck has been piled with heaps of dead leaves and the sodden detritus of last summer’s dead flowers. Everyone with whom I spoke seemed to be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. The only relief came from the fact that my miniature fig tree and my kaffir lime tree that had been wintering over in the garage are both fruiting and flowering since they have been brought out onto the deck.

Wednesday, Saul had a free day with no obligations. We used the time to take a trip down to Produce Junction in Glenside to buy plants at tremendously good prices. I bought two large braided hibiscus trees, two pink flowering mandevilla vines, two healthy gardenia bushes, a flat of multicolored petunias, various herbs, such as French tarragon and lemon thyme, a few pots of lantana and verbena, a rieger begonia, four cyclamen and four gerbera daisy plants, all for under $150.

Thursday was Saul’s last final. He went from giving his final, to meetings, to physical therapy for his shoulders, to an evening awards ceremony and dinner with me for our friend, Faith Rubin, who was one of this year’s recipients of United Synagogue’s Ateret HaKavod Award for her long-time and exemplary service as an educator and educational director. The dinner was a wine bar and buffet catered by Barclay and consisting of four themed food stations that served Asian, Italian, Israeli, and American Jewish cuisine. We dined on everything from pad Thai, to tortellini, to felafel, to hand-carved corned beef and brisket. Adjourning to the sanctuary of Adath Israel, we watched the presentations of awards and speeches, and then were treated to a dessert buffet. The evening out gave us a chance to catch up with many old friends and acquaintances whom we haven’t seen in quite some time.

Friday, we began potting up our purchases from Produce Junction. We finally got a break in the weather that allowed us to spiff up our view of the deck and gazebo as we begin our summer vacation. Beth and her friend Paul began planting our raised garden with veggies, as we are collaborating on the production of produce this year. Saul took advantage of the window of good weather and fired up the charcoal grill in the afternoon to grill juicy hamburgers, giant kosher hot dogs, and spicy Moroccan sausage, while I prepared the economical dishes of beef, barley and mushroom soup and barbecue beef from the second cut of brisket that I had not used up during Passover. When we discovered that only Larry was joining us for Shabbat dinner, we froze all the grilled meat and dined on the soup and barbecue beef. We also had homemade challah, fresh spinach salad with hard-boiled egg, avocado, onion and cucumber with hot sesame dressing, homemade potato salad, kohlrabi coleslaw, gezer chai (living carrots), and jumbo oatmeal, peanut butter and raisin cookies.

We drove Larry and Natalie to Kennedy Airport on Long Island for their Grand Circle trip to Egypt and Jordan. We ran into standstill traffic immediately after we dropped them off and asked our GPS to detour us. It detoured us right through New York City’s Chinatown and through the Holland Tunnel. At least we weren’t standing still. We had some dinner on the road at a Cracker Barrel in New Jersey before using the opportunity to visit Saul’s Mom at Safe Haven at Lion’s Gate, an excellent Alzheimer’s disease facility. We brought her some chocolate-covered cashews and a picture frame filled with the photo of her three great-granddaughters for Mother’s Day. We put up a few pictures on her bulletin board of various ones of us holding Yona, the new baby, and wrote names on the photos. She no longer seems to be able to remember some of the family’s names and she has lost the ability to speak in languages other than English, even Yiddish, surprisingly. Saul tried out Hebrew, Yiddish, and Hungarian while we were with her and she only nodded in answer and seemed confused. On this visit, we found her in her room, instead of in the common room with the other patients. She had barricaded her door with a chair and also had a chair barricading her closet door. She told us that someone was stealing her stuff when she left the room. When she opened the closet door, there were so many items of clothing jamming the closet, that she had difficulty removing them from the bar. If anything, we had marveled at her lack of paranoia that we had encountered on previous visits. Since her experiences in the Holocaust, she had always been paranoiaic. It is hard for us to say whether we just had encountered her on a bad day, or whether she is reverting back to her previous state as her disease progresses. When we returned home, I made a sour cream pound cake, this time with the cane sugar I was supposed to be trying out, and a brown sugar glazed sweet potato cake, also with the cane sugar.

I arose really early on Sunday morning to get ready for the brunch. I went into Mom’s room to empty her commode, bring her more Ensure and fresh water, and brush her false teeth with toothpaste so she could put them into her mouth. I reminded her that the whole family was coming to visit her for Mother’s Day thinking that would please her as she lately never wants to be alone. Then I vacuumed and put tablecloths on the tables, turned the cakes out of the pans, made the glaze for the sweet potato cake, changed part of my modular Dacor range into a griddle, made French toast with a loaf of Friday evening’s challah, and prepared batter for cornmeal pancakes. By then, Saul was up and went to check on Mom. We were surprised to find that she was freaked out by the fact that everyone was coming. She told Saul and me that no one was to come into her room and that they all were coming only to eat and not to visit her. We were absolutely shocked to see and hear this kind of behavior in the daytime. Adele came early to help me prepare, and she was equally shocked. We didn’t want to give Mom the usual medication for fear it would make her groggy. Two hours later, when my brother Ken came early after picking up a number of food items at Costco, and went into her room, all the angst was forgotten. Eventually, she spent about an hour at the kitchen table in her wheelchair, eating a bit of real food and happily schmoozing with her guests. When she could no longer sit up, her room was filled with lots of family and happy conversation. Erik brought her a gigantic gorgeous flower arrangement from all of us from his parents’ flower shop, Schmidt’s Flowers in Bristol.

Beth came over early and used my leaf vacuum to clean up the unsightly piles of leaves on the deck while I showered and dressed. At the brunch we had lox, pickled herring, and whitefish salad with cream cheese and bagels that Anne had brought from New York, a platter of sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, mini sweet peppers, onions and radishes, sliced American and Monterrey jack cheeses, Manchego cheese (that both Haley and Randi went crazy over) with homemade membrillo, French toast, cornmeal pancakes made with the cane sugar so that Erik could partake (that Danny went crazy over) with real grade b maple syrup, cornbread muffins from Costco with butter and seedless raspberry jam, mixed fresh berries from Costco (giant strawberries, blackberries and raspberries) with whipped cream, a decorated chocolate cake from Costco, the two cakes I had made the previous evening, and Costco’s super premium vanilla ice cream. Although the deck and gazebo looked very inviting, the day was so windy that everyone ate indoors. After everyone left, Beth and Paul came back to plant the vegetables in the garden and begin to put up deer netting, while Saul replaced our garage door opener keypad which had died a few weeks ago, and a garage door spring, which had snapped suddenly a few days ago causing such a sound that we thought part of our house had collapsed. Then, he came in to watch Mom while I finally had an opportunity to get outside and pull some weeds, edge some beds, and pull out some ferns that were choking our cherry laurels.

Today, when Stacey came, Saul and I ran out to Produce Junction in Hatboro to check out a few more items that we needed to complete our plantings. The pickings were slim, but I did buy six New Guinea impatiens for $14, three more slightly sad leftover gardenia plants for $5 total, and a new wand for my hose for $5. On the way back, we stopped at Rhoads Gardens down the street from our home and bought a hanging basket with a plant loaded with cherry tomatoes and some live Spanish moss with which to cover our cocoa mat hanging baskets that we arranged on Friday. Everything we had seen at Rhoads Gardens was double to triple the price we had payed at Produce Junction. We had rushed back to meet with Mom’s social worker, Marion, at noon. As we were waiting in the checkout line at Rhoads, Marion tapped me on the shoulder. She had decided to go there also before our meeting just to take in the beauty of the flowers for a few minutes. Although Rhoads prices are high, they have some of the most beautiful and unusual plantings, structures and garden accessories that you can find anywhere. Mom was awake and pleasant this morning and afternoon. Darnice came to bathe her and change her clothes and she was very agreeable today. Adele also came and met Marion for the first time. While Darnice was bathing Mom, Saul and I, Stacey, Marion and Adele sat at the kitchen table and discussed our situation. Each time I speak with Marion, I learn a bit more detail about the whole situation and state of hospice and health care in this country. I hope that the system will be reformed under Obama. There are so many pitfalls and inequities as it stands now, not to mention the potential for catastrophic cost to those who are suffering. When Marion left, we went to Home Depot to get some bars to try to repair our outdoor solar lanterns and some Roundup to get rid of the weeds coming up between the blocks of our new slab of patio. We dined on leftovers.

I fell asleep at 6:00 p.m. this evening, in the middle of a shared phone conversation with Saul and Ari. When I awoke at 8:15 p.m., Saul told me he had given Mom her Lorazepam because she had become very belligerent with him when he declined to sit with her in her room. He actually feared that she might bite him when he went to remove her teeth for the night. We are sure that in the morning, she will remember none of this. I wonder if the stories of vampires and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde come from people who had to deal with sundown syndrome in bygone days.

Ari has booked a trip to Moscow for Memorial Day weekend. He found a round-trip flight for under $425 which gives him Star Alliance miles, allowing him to keep and upgrade his frequent flyer status. The Swissotel where he is staying is $160 per night as opposed to the $600-700 per night it usually costs. He tells me it looks on the map as though it is in the Kremlin, although it probably is just adjacent. I wish I loved to fly as much as he does! I might have enjoyed going there for Mother’s Day :-).

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