Down the Slide

Rabbi Mark Weider
Rabbi Mark Weider

A silly moment, puzzling at the time. “I never put peas in stew.” I scratched my head. I’d been eating my mother’s stew all my life, and knew the recipe…beef, onions, carrots, potatoes, peas, etc. I tried to refresh my mom’s memory. She thought about it, finally conceding, “I guess you’re right.” And I gave it no more thought until a few weeks later, when she made stew, and lo and behold, no peas.

Rabbi Mark Weider
Rabbi Mark Weider

In the larger scheme of things, a lack of peas is not a tragedy. And certainly, it didn’t rate nearly as high up on the scale of cooking mishaps as the time my mother gave out a cake recipe to my aunt, inadvertently mixing up the salt and sugar measurements. I won’t reproduce my aunt’s “salty” remarks here.

The lack of peas was my first time noticing a decline in my mother’s memory. When I got over the frustration of being told something I knew wasn’t true, it could be somewhat humorous. When my mom told me she had never owned a cell phone, I remembered the extensive discussions with her about how she had to keep the phone charged—that sitting in the glove box of her car it wouldn’t stay usable if, God forbid, something happened.

It’s somewhat probable that mom never actually used her cell phone. But it would have been helpful for the times she got turned around enroute somewhere. Her sense of direction had never been good; senility had nothing to do with it. “I was coming home from A.’s, and you’ll never guess where I wound up.” “At the airport?” “HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT!!!” “Well, mom, if you don’t turn onto I271, that’s where you wind up.” “Oh.”

All the family members of residents with dementia I work with have stories to tell about how their loved ones have changed. In some cases it is facts that are missing, situations forgotten, medicine not taken properly, plans not remembered. In other cases, it might be an inability to form a new memory, a lack of impulse control, or a change in personality.

How we react as our loved ones decline varies greatly. My cousin A. (whose home my mother had trouble returning from) continued to get angry at mom. She would yell, and my mother would get frightened and confused. Luckily that would pass. A.’s continued lament was, “I want my aunt back.” Except in rare cases of pharmacologically-induced mental changes, dementia doesn’t clear up.

Most certainly there are good days and bad days, even good and bad times of day. There can be visits where we see the old sparkle in the eyes, or where we really reach someone through music or art, or perhaps a fragrance. The downhill slope may be very slow or quite rapid. There can be plateaus that seem endless. And there are times that someone who has been “out of it” for quite a time suddenly scores very high on a mini-mental exam. I know that I’ve done my share of praying for the good days of a lot of people.

Accepting the sense of loss when our loved ones change is not easy, especially when a spouse or partner is no longer the same. How do we go from having someone with whom to share hopes and dreams, travel, a physical, sexual, and spiritual relationship, to someone who requires caretaking.

While most of us come to terms with what must be done, whether it means taking away driving privileges, wresting control over the finances, obtaining adult day care or home health care, others remain in denial, sometimes to the point of endangering themselves, their loved ones, and others. There are times when nothing more can be said, where we can only pray for others to find their way. The time when we must cede control to God. This prayer has the potential to liberate and empower us.


  1. Hi Mark,
    That is so well said — I bet your mom was quite a pistol in her day. As you may or may not know, our mom had Alzheimer’s for about 10 years—-the last 2-3 years of her life were the most difficult for all of us, especially for dad and our Aunt Cece. What a devastating disease for the entire family to have to face—if someone told me 20 years ago that my mom would do and say some of the things she said and did, I would not have believed it. What a sweet, kind woman she was—-truly the ideal mom. I am always fearful that I might inherit the Alzheimer gene—-I think because I will have to work for the rest of my life, I might be able to trick it into leaving me alone. Hope all is well with you and Jonathan.
    Love, Nancy.
    On our way to St. Pete area to see my 93 1/2 year old dad.

  2. What a sensitively, beautifully written commentary.. I experienced this with both my parents;especially hard to witness in my Dad. Let us always have compassion and the education to enable us to make good
    decisions when we must. Thank you for your thoughts and best to you and Jonathan. Jerri

  3. Mark, this was very well-written about changes we see in those around us. While I did see the effects of aging in my parents, it is my greatest relief that they died while they were still the people I knew and loved all my life.

  4. Mark,
    That was a beautifully written piece about your mother. Yes, it’s difficult to accept the changes in our loved ones when they experience memory loss. I still visit a dear friend from RTBI with memory loss and it saddens me that I can’t have the same conversations we used to have.

  5. I have family members and friends who had to care for close relatives with dementia and the stories are heart breaking. I now try to have a conversation with a friend who played a “mean” game of ping pong but who now has difficulty putting words together. Mark, thank you for bringing up this issue that touches all of us in a loving manner.

What are your thoughts?