With Recipes, Poetry, and Prose Author Miriam Green Shares her Alzheimer’s Story in “The Lost Kitchen”

Green, Mirian Meme

By Miriam Green

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. Ok, I thought, what now?

Little in our lives changed at first. Mom still rattled around in her kitchen, she 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.

cover 7b Top to Bottom FadeI 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.

About the Author

Green, Miriam headshotMiriam Green writes a weekly blog, The Lost Kitchen,  featuring anecdotes about her mother’s Alzheimer’s and related recipes. Her blog also appears on the ALZ Blog from the Alzheimer’s Association.  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 and Twitter at @thelostkichen.

 

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How Saying “Yes” Helps Caregivers: Introducing “Start With Yes!”

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From the AlzAuthors Blog

By Cathi Braxton and Tami Neumann

Janna, a resident in a memory care facility, woke up one night and found a few staff members congregated around the nurses station.  When a nurse asked Janna what was wrong, Janna told the group that there were alley cats outside her window making all sorts of ruckus.  Several of the nurses seemed dismissive of  Janna with their sideways glances and eye rolling, but one staff member, Terry,  approached Janna with a kind but concerned smile on her face.

“Janna, let’s go see what all that ruckus is all about.  I suspect alley cats get hungry at this time of night.”  With that the two of them headed back down the hallway and disappeared into Janna’s room. Continue reading

From the AlzAuthors Blog: Sarah B. Smith Shares her Mother’s Alzheimer’s Story in “Broken Beauty”

It’s my hope through our story that readers will feel the power of love. (4)

By Sarah Bearden Smith

Writing a book was never a dream of mine. A stay-at-home mom driving an SUV, aka “shuttle bus,” I carpool kids to and from school, soccer, flag football, lacrosse, basketball practices, games, and tournaments. As I became a caregiver to Mom, God began drawing me closer and closer to Him through my pain and sorrow.

BOOK COVERBroken Beauty is the story of my mother—known as “Beauty” to our family— and our family’s journey through the devastating world of early-onset Alzheimer’s. I was a young mother in my thirties when my mother’s illness struck, and our family’s shock and pain at the disease’s manifestations has been nearly unbearable. At the time of her diagnosis, Beauty was still young and fit and my best friend. It’s a powerful and personal story about a daughter facing the unthinkable and the love I found to carry her through. Continue reading

From the AlzAuthors Blog: Occupational Therapist Barbara Smith Teaches Alzheimer’s Caregivers New Skills in “Still Giving Kisses”

Smith, Barbara graphic copy (1)

By Barbara Smith

I am an occupational therapist, specializing in developmental disabilities. I had never planned to work in the area of geriatrics. But when my mother developed Alzheimer’s disease, I was thrust into the world of home care, Medicare, assisted living and nursing homes. I read numerous books and learned the lingo of lawyers, the health care bureaucracy and gerontology.

Fortunately, as an occupational therapist, I have years of experience adapting environments and creating activities to promote functional skills and quality of life. I wrote this book to share how I helped my mother enjoy her life as best as possible, as she regressed through the stages. I could not help but notice that the residents in my mom’s assisted living and then her nursing home had few visitors.

I believe that there are many reasons for this, but common ones are:

  • Friends and loved ones are scared and confused about the person’s decline
  • Friends and family do not know how to relate to a person who may no longer speak or seem to recognize them.
  • And most sadly, friends and family think that the person has so little awareness that their presence is of no value.

still giving kisses copyMy primary goal in writing Still Giving Kisses: Helping and Enjoying the Alzheimer’s Victim You Love was to offer an alternative to the above situations. Like many others, I was in the “sandwich generation.” My son was a tween and teen during these years and had many developmental and social challenges related to autism. The time crunch from work and family obligations naturally made spending time with my mom difficult–as I’m sure is true for millions of other caregivers. However, when loved ones learn how to help and actually enjoy being with this person, the relationship takes on a beautiful and mutually beneficial meaning. Given the right information and support, family and friends can learn how to spend quality time with a loved one that will create positive memories.

The title of this book reflects one of the few remaining motor acts my mother was able to perform during the last few months of her life. When she was no longer speaking, non-ambulatory and unable to eat independently, she was still able to pucker up her lips to communicate “I love you, come over for my kiss.” This was a highly significant motor act, one that symbolizes a continuing connectedness between myself and the Alzheimer’s victim I loved.

There are many books on the market that describe the symptoms and stages of Alzheimer’s disease and behavioral interventions that promote function. Often this information is dry and overwhelming. There are also many highly readable memoirs that give the spouse, adult-children or the victim’s point of view. In writing, Still Giving Kisses, I strove to provide both.

You will read a compelling memoir of a woman whose earlier mental health problems compounded the many challenges of memory impairment. The many therapeutic techniques, adaptations and teaching tools I share are all tricks of the occupational therapy trade, along with my own unique touch. Extensive resources and medical, legal and care-giving information provide survival tools.

Although I wrote this book primarily for friends and family of Alzheimer’s victims, Still Giving Kisses provides a framework for health care professionals entering the field of geriatrics. Indeed, I wish this resource had been available when my mother began showing the earliest symptoms. I hope that my book helps you to enjoy a journey that nobody chooses to take . . .

Purchase Still Giving Kisses

About the Author

Barbara Smith is an occupational therapist specializing in developmental disabilities. She discovered a penchant for creating highly effective therapeutic activities out of household materials such as detergent bottles, cardboard boxes and newspapers. Her book The Recycling Occupational Therapist describes how to fabricate and use these activities.

Barbara’s second book From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills (published by Therapro, Inc. 2011) is written for parents with typically developing children from ages birth through five years to help develop the skills needed to read and write. In addition, the activity adaptations make learning easier for children with sensory, motor or sensory challenges.

From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills is written for parents of children who have or they suspect may have an autism spectrum disorder. Readers will learn how autism impacts the development of hand skills and to use the teaching strategies and adaptations that help children reach their potentials to perform everyday functional activities and academic skills in school.

Connect with Barbara Smith: books, courses, educational videos and social media

Website

Blog

Educational Videos

Facebook 

Twitter 

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From the AlzAuthors Blog: Carol B. Amos Shares “H.O.P.E. for the Alzheimer’s Journey”

Amos, Carol graphic copy

By Carol B. Amos

My two brothers and I were devastated when our mother began displaying signs of Alzheimer’s disease in 2002. She lived alone in her home and her nearest adult child lived four hours away. We banded together to face this challenge head-on. We began a period of observing, investigating, collaborating, and careful listening to gain insight into the situation. We visited and called our mother more often. We each solicited advice from caregivers we knew and visited our local Alzheimer’s Association office.

My brothers and I worked hard to help our mother maintain her independence and remain in her home. We worked with her doctors, and after multiple attempts Aricept was prescribed. We hired a social worker and nurse to assist her. When “issues” arose, we never knew if an event occurred as she explained. This was extremely frustrating to us. Eventually a dangerous incident demonstrated that she could no longer live alone. It was difficult taking responsibility for our strong, independent mother. Continue reading

From the AlzAuthors Blog: Ellen Smith Discusses Her Alzheimer’s Novel “Reluctant Cassandra”

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By Ellen Smith

Reluctant Cassandra came to me first as a title. I’ve always been fascinated by Greek mythology and especially with the character of Cassandra. She was given the gift of prophecy along with the curse that her warnings would never be believed. In Greek mythology, Cassandra’s story ends with the fall of Troy—a tragedy she foresaw but was unable to prevent.

What would it be like to see the future and still be helpless to change the outcome? Unfortunately, I’ve lived that experience. Many of us have. When I wrote my own version of a modern-day Cassandra story, I imagined a woman whose father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She could see clearly that his health was deteriorating, but it was still so hard for her and her family to accept the future that was unfolding.

Reluctant Cassandra LargeThe journey that my characters took through anticipatory grief was very similar to what I had just been through in my personal life. I actually wrote Reluctant Cassandra the year after I lost my son. Living through his diagnosis and passing was a heartbreak I hadn’t been able to put into words, but when I stepped into this fictional world, the pain of my own Cassandra experience poured out.

While writing Reluctant Cassandra was cathartic, the story continued to take on a life of its own after publication. Only a week after my release date, I received my first letter from a reader. She had connected strongly with the story because it mirrored her own experience after her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was so touched that she reached out to share that with me—in fact, I still have her email printed out and pinned over my desk! Her letter was later joined by more notes from other members of the Alzheimer’s community. Here I had written this story at a time when I felt so alone and now it was connecting with readers from all over.

In the three years since Reluctant Cassandra was published, I’ve continued to write and advocate for those with Alzheimer’s. I released a short story collection loosely based on the setting of Reluctant Cassandra on Channillo for Charity, with all proceeds going to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. Even though I didn’t know anyone with Alzheimer’s when I was first writing Reluctant Cassandra, this disease now has many faces for me. I see those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s themselves, as well as their families, friends, and caregivers. I’m grateful to them for telling me their stories, and honored that they are willing to hear mine, too.

This is the true gift of a story: it reaches across the barriers of time and place and circumstance and allows us to connect with each other. The Greek myth of Cassandra was first told hundreds of years ago, and yet the story still impacted me as a 21st century reader. My novel was inspired by a grief I couldn’t put in to words, but writing this story allowed me to become a part of the Alzheimer’s community. I could never have imagined where the book would lead me when I first thought of the title years ago. I am beyond grateful that it brought me here.

author headshotAbout the Author

Ellen Smith is the author of Reluctant Cassandra, Every Last Minute, and the Channillo for Charity series Ghosts of Eagle Valley, which benefits the Alzheimer’s Association. When she isn’t busy writing, Ellen can usually be found reading, crafting, or playing piano. No matter what she is doing, Ellen is always wondering, “What if?” Ellen lives with her family near Washington, DC.

 

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From the AlzAuthors Blog: Jessica Bryan Returns with “The Mighty Ant – An Anthology of Short Stories for Seniors”

_just like the little ant, whose size is disproportionate to its strength, so can stories have strong impact, regardless of their length._
By Jessica Bryan

I am an author of over 28 books who has always shared my stories with my mother. Sadly, Mom suffers from Alzheimer’s, and as the disease has progressed she no longer comprehends more intricate plots, nor can she focus on longer, more detailed stories.  As a consequence, I began reading short stories to her. I noticed that after reading something more easily comprehended, there was often something in the tale that sparked a memory and conversation.  “Do you remember gardening?” I asked her after reading about a gardener. It brought a sweet reminiscent moment that included smiles and even laughter. That spawned my idea for a book of short stories specifically dedicated to the elderly with cognitive issues and their caregivers who often search for activities that will provide quality time with their loved ones. Continue reading