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Alzheimer’s Caregiver and Writer Miriam Green: Why We Light Chanukah Candles

Alzheimer’s Caregiver and Writer Miriam Green: Why We Light Chanukah Candles
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December 18, 2022
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A long-time contributor to the Alzheimer’s Association blog, Miriam Green shares her caregiving stories and the recipes she learned from her mother, Naomi, who is living with Alzheimer’s.

Mom is holding steady twelve years after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, both a blessing and a curse. I’m guessing you already know how bad it can get. The anger, the fear, the irrational behavior, the sense of being lost and knowing something’s wrong. My sweet, loving mom is still alive, but she is somewhere deep and tangled inside the body and mind of the alternative mom who no longer knows me.

It’s easy to get caught up in the negative, the gloom, the blackness of our daily reality as a family battling Alzheimer’s. And it is so much harder to find the light. That’s why I relish the opportunity to light candles on Chanukah. It is a vivid reminder that darkness can be vanquished.

Picture it. We’ve entered the time of year with the least amount of daytime. Dusk comes early, and the light fades away into a cold incessant night. Chanukah is always at the end of the Jewish month of Kislev when the moon completely disappears. It sheds no light. The candles we light, increasing by one each night for eight nights, symbolize our ability to illuminate our lives and overcome the challenges that enshroud us.

So much of what makes a successful visit to Mom in her Alzheimer’s care home is her mood. If she’s scowling or unhappy, I work hard to bring her around to a calmer perspective. We sing songs together, often nursery rhymes that she once taught me. We hold hands and give each other hugs.

If I’m really lucky, Mom will call me by my name, even if she has lost all concept of relationships. Once, she grabbed my hand and counted out 40 kisses in my palm, just as I once placed kisses in my own children’s pockets as they went off to school.

The wonder of her reaching through the darkness to connect with me is overwhelming, and I am filled with hope, with love, with a fierce remembrance of what she was. That’s when I know she’s still there. When those sparks of recognition connect us, it doesn’t matter how difficult it is to communicate or interact. Those sudden, unexpected encounters light energize and enlighten us both from the inside.

And so the Festival of Lights, the celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE by a small band of Maccabees who overpowered their Syrian-Greek oppressors, hits home on an intimate level. For a brief moment, order emerges from the chaos and the world seems bright again.

I feel my mom’s presence when I cook and bake. She was a formidable housewife and an excellent cook. She inducted me into a practical cooking life. I watched as she bought and salted meat in our sink before turning it into delicious roast; as she cut and chopped vegetables for soup; or even as she made me sandwiches for school.

When she developed Alzheimer’s, her mounting mistakes in the kitchen forced her to stop. Now, when my dad comes for a Shabbat meal, I do my best to live up to Mom’s abilities and cook to his needs. Rule no. 1: no fried foods. Chanukah is a season of fried foods based on the story of the one-day share of oil that lasted a miraculous eight days. Here’s a recipe for baked donuts that are also gluten-free.

Gluten-Free Vanilla Donuts

These donuts are light and fluffy and infused with a gentle taste of vanilla. Keep the calories off and still enjoy a Chanukah treat.

1 cup gluten-free flour
½ cup rice flour
¼ cup potato flour
1 tsp gelatin
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg
dash cinnamon
1 scant cup sugar
¾ cup rice or soy cream
2 tsp vanilla

1 cup confectioners sugar
2-3 Tbsp apple or orange juice

In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and combine well. Grease each donut or muffin pan. Fill each about half way as these donuts rise significantly. Bake at 350° F for 20 minutes. Cool on a metal rack. Meanwhile, mix glaze ingredients to form a smooth paste. Dip each donut in glaze. Let the glaze harden. Serve.

About: An award winning poet and author of The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver (Black Opal Books, 2019), Miriam transitioned post-COVID into content writing. Prior to that, she worked for 18 years as a counselor helping new immigrants adjust to life in Israel. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University, and a B.A. from Oberlin College. Miriam is a 30-year resident of Israel, and a mother of three. Visit Miriam on Facebook.

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