When my parents moved from Netanya to Beer Sheva, one of our first stops was to Misrad Hapnim, the Interior Ministry, to update the address on their identity cards. We needed the new teudat zehut with the updated address to request an arnona discount due to my mom’s illness, to register my dad’s car, to put bills in their name—in fact, it was essential to establishing them in their new home.
Changing their address was only half the objective. The other was to replace their old teudot zehut with new digitalized biometric identity cards. We made an appointment on line, arrived at the offices, received our number from the machine and waited only about 10 minutes before they called our name.
Misrad Hapnim was busy and loud. There were hundreds of people either sitting or moving about the large room. The loudspeaker kept barking out numbers. To my dad and I, the atmosphere was a normal part of what we’d come to expect from Israeli bureaucratic offices. Mom, however, was completely disoriented.
Let me back up a step and explain that my mom has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in the fall of 2010. She’s been living with the disease for almost eight years. We’ve watched as Mom’s cognitive skills have dwindled significantly. I’ve been privy to her anxiety over her waning memory. I have held her as she cried bitter tears and told me she felt confused. It had been 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 leads to death.
When she was diagnosed, I made a commitment to them—and to myself—to visit once a week to support them as much as I could. It took me 2½ hours of travel each way on public transportation to Netanya from Beer Sheva. Mom and I experienced moments of pure joy in our weekly visits. And, as befitting a parent, she continued to teach me valuable lessons despite her illness. I learned that reality is not all it’s cracked up to be: When we were together, we lived in the now, because the power of the present allowed Mom to laugh and sing and enjoy life fully without the pressure of having to remember the past or plan for the future.
Mom’s Alzheimer’s also pushed me to find a creative outlet for the emotional roller coaster that had become our daily lives. I blog on a weekly basis about our experiences; and my book, The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, was published in May.
With my parents’ move to Beer Sheva, we were closing one chapter in our lives and opening another. They were now my neighbors, and my interaction with them was more frequent and more intense. I had de facto become their Hebrew-speaking guide to their new city.
And so here we were at Misrad Hapnim getting them new teudot zehut.
Mom was politely asked to sit on a stool to answer some questions and have her photo taken. When I explained that she couldn’t answer any question directed to her, I answered for her, relaying in Hebrew information that my dad supplied in English, though I could see that Mom wanted to know what was going on, why a conversation was happening literally above her head. I translated as best I could, trying to hear the clerk over all the noise.
Then Mom was asked to pose for the photo. She seemed incapable of straightening herself or of sitting within the allotted space for the computerized camera. I heard the clerk take at least five or six photos before she gave up and told us we could have chosen to have a teudat zehut without a photo.
Really? I asked. I’d never heard that before. You mean we could have avoided this unnecessary stress? I asked her. (I have been unable to verify this with subsequent searches on websites and in talking to other clerks.)
Never mind, she said, she’d adjust the photo electronically. The new teudat zehut would be delivered within two weeks.
I carry a copy of Mom’s original teudat zehut with me in my bag, so that when asked, I can produce her number without needing to memorize it. And, now, added to that, is the most recent photo. Every time I view that new photo, I am reminded of how much I’ve lost. The utter confusion in her eyes is painful to see.
I try not to dwell on that loss if I can help it. My goal when we are together is to tease out from within the tangled reality in which she now lives, that more lively, loving Naomi, the one with the bright, engaging smile, the person she was when she made aliyah in 1995. I am blessed to find her in small, joyful moments.
I invite you to share this journey with us as my mom’s Alzheimer’s progresses. There is comfort in knowing I’m not alone in this experience, and strength in the sharing.