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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Making lunch happen

I am responsible for the evening meals that my mother and I eat every day; her housekeeper cuts up fruit for breakfasts. Lunch? My mother makes it herself but as she gets older and her memory - and her awareness of the world around her - fades, it happens more often than not that the regular time for lunch is missed. Evenings I usually serve up dinner around 5.30pm, so I normally arrive at my mother's apartment at the same time each afternoon. So it is important to make sure that she eats lunch at around the same time every day; my mother says she prefers to eat lunch around 1pm. Often, however, with the vagaries of memory and awareness brought on by dementia it's quite likely that she might still be eating lunch at 2pm or 3pm. It all depends on whether she is hungry or not.

Today I went around to mum's place at around 12.30pm to make sure she started making her regular sandwiches - we had a lamb roast a few days ago so there are still the remnants of a leg of lamb in the fridge - at the appropriate time. Usually I call her, but last night mum tripped on her shoe - yes, I know it's hard to believe, but it's quite credible where you're talking about someone as liable to missteps as my mother - and fell against the kitchen bench, bruising her arm. I saw a subdued mother this morning when I went around to her place to eat my breakfast.

The thing about telephoning a person with Alzheimer's is that the second - the very SECOND - you put the phone down she has turned to occupy herself with other things, and likely as not she will completely forget the contents of the telephone call. It happens often. I call and explain the need for lunch to her and she agrees with alacrity. But when I call back an hour later she is still sitting in front of the TV. "There was a good program," she'll tell me. "Did you eat lunch?" "Yes, I think so." "Are you sure?" "Let me check," she says. (She always trims her sandwiches of their crusts, so there will be telltale crusts in the garbage bin if she has, in fact, made sandwiches.) "Oh, no ..." she tells me, slightly bemused. "I didn't." It is now 1.30pm and dinner looms. So I tell her to make sandwiches and then I call back 15 minutes later to check that it has been done.

In order to avoid such frustrating telephone conversations - and repeated calls - and because she tripped and fell last night, today I started out for her place at around 12.15pm despite the heat, to watch her make sandwiches. In fact, there is no more reliable method to ensure that this critical element of the day's routine is faithfully performed, than to be present at the time of its performance. Making sandwiches is important for elderly ladies. A meal anchors the otherwise elusive day that tends to meander on the breeze of time like a pair of flirting white butterflies drifting on the diurnal breeze. Making lunch happen is also an important part of my own day. For myself, I have no trouble remembering to warm up some stew to eat by myself at midday, but for my mother there are too many things in the world ready to distract her mind from this important task. I will try to make the lunchtime trip to her place on as many days as I can. For both our sakes.

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