A Special Thanksgiving

Started November 27, 2019

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,

yardWhenever we leave for a trip, I take backyard pictures to make sure I remember what all needs to be done! On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the yard was quite healthy, having received the first rain in almost six months.

Nazareth HouseThe plan was to stop by Nazareth House, visit Magdalena, and then go off to other family for the rest of the weekend.

doorPlans changed when we got to Room A11. Mamo seemed extra tired and the idea of leaving her for four days just did not seem right. We called Gabby and shifted from a Thanksgiving on the coast to Thanksgiving here in Fresno, a special Thanksgiving.

Magdalena expressed concern that we would not be seeing the grandkids, but we assured her there would be plenty of time for that in the future, and there will be. To make sure we had approval from our hostess, we put Mamo on the phone with Gabby and then settled down to enjoy the time we had.

on phone girls with painting

SulayThe longer we stayed, the more energy Magdalena seemed to get, although breathing was not back to her normal standard. Surlay, her regular Occupational Therapist, came by to put her through her paces and both sides of this treatment enjoyed the interaction.Mary Lou

For lunch, Magdalena chose to go to the dining room, in part to get out of the recliner she stays in otherwise. At the end of lunch, Mary Lou, a resident from French Basque Country, came by to chit chat. The two seniors exchanged the names of European cities and towns they fondly remember. Anther good interaction.

storiesAfter lunch, Magdalena was tired, but still preferred telling stories to resting and, after that, it was on to bingo. Mamo was a bit tired, but not so sleepy that she didn't win two $1.00 prizes. Beginner's luck.

m and M bingo room wining cards

hair salonThe day's activities were not done yet. Family friend Kati came by to visit and I needed to bring her to the hair dresser's salon where Magdalena was having a weekly wash and set. It was nice to have a visitor and also nice to get some girl treatment.

And in no time at all, it was time for dinner. The duty photographer (= me) had left, so there are no pictures, but reports are that dinner was "as before", not worth many Michelin stars. By the end of dinner, Babi had arrived from work and took over keeping Mamo company until she was settled again back in Room A11.

Thanksgiving Day.

The plan was to keep Magdalena company as much of the day as possible, ending with a family dinner at 4:00. Marianne and I got to Nazareth House after breakfast and I settled in for the day, while Marianne went out to shop for our part of Thanksgiving dinner.

Mostly, Mamo napped after breakfast, except for medical breaks. Home Nurse Pam came by and checked out the scrape on Magdalena's leg, pronouncing it much improved since Monday. Certainly it was smaller and noticeably less painful. Good to see.Sam and Mamal

Gabby callThe morning highlight was a phone call from Gabby. Talking with her granddaughter made Magdalena's face glow. There was even a picture of great grandson Sammy and his dad Mamal, sharing a traditional round of Thanksgiving golf. Magdalena could hold the phone, listen to my description of the picture, and see it clearly in her mind's eye.

lunch storiesThen it was off to lunch. No Michelin stars here, but Magdalena did not want to eat much anyway, since there was a big family turkey dinner coming up. After she nibbled, I prompted her to tell stories of food back in Hungary, when she was growing up. She was delighted to tell of her mom's cooking and the special treats from neighborhood bakeries and confectioneries. Good food memories last for at least 90 years!room stories

Back in Room A11, it was time for napping and more stories, food tales again, this time of Budapest and Frankfurt breakfasts of local rolls, jam, and tea. I think Magdalena has been eating essentially the same morning menu for almost 100 years: some small baked goods and tea or coffee. Very traditional, old-world Europe, just like herself.

cardtableThanksgiving was active at Nazareth House, with some families joining their elders in the dining room for lunch and others, like ourselves, bringing home-cooked feasts to various gathering rooms. We were lucky enough to have the Board Room, an elegant setting, perfect for the holiday gathering.turkey

Pretty much on schedule, folks arrived, with mountains of food and warm greetings for Mamo. The guest list included Katinka (aka Babi) and Ruben, grandson Henry and his son Zaiden, Marianne and me, friend Kati Benko, and Juanita, Magdalena's helper-companion over the last several months. And a properly-browned turkey (thanks, Katinka).

After dinner, guests left and Magdalena went back to A11 to do her best at sleeping. Faced with the reality of their mother's need for additional support, her daughters started the difficult task of committing to a change of rooms, into Nazareth House's so-called "care center".

Black Friday

Even on the next day as I write this, Friday is a blur. Nine days after arriving in Assisted Living, Magdalena moved to The Care Center, where more hands would be available to care for her. Her new room, N10, was two-thirds the size of Assisted Living Room A11 in which she had become comfortable, comfortable enough anyway. Quite some adjustment, considering her initial, unfavorable, comparison of A11 life to post-war refugee life in Germany.

Her world continued to shrink and I could not help but wonder, is this the way it must be for all of us?

Enough dark thoughts. By 10:00pm, Marianne tucked her mom in bed, and kissed her good night. Tomorrow would be another day.


Before 8:00, Marianne left for Nazareth House and I left for the Farmer's Market, we needed coffee and fruit. I also bought some bear claws from the Boulanger stand in order to make sure Magdalena had her favorite. As it turned out, the Nazareth House kitchen had also prepared bear claws for her. Better two claws than none.

At Mamo's new room, N10, things were not so good. Apparently the night crew had left the room in chaos and the resident uncomfortable and scared. Marianne worked on comfort, fright, and order. She was doggedly fighting for everything that would preserve her mom's dignity, a fight that we may all need to be fought for us at some point.

Katinka came with grandson Zaiden and did her best to also serve as a good daughter. (And Zaiden did his best too, for a bored six-year-old.) As I recall she focused on making N10 cleaner and Mamo a bit more "presentable", roles she has been fulfilling for some time now.

Gabby came over from Monte Sereno and greeted Magdalena warmly and provided most useful calm and comfort for both grandmother and mother.

Juanita came at 3:00 and reported to "work". She and "Mrs. Nagy" worked on paying Mamo's bills, an ordinary task that allowed Magdalena an amount of control, something that had all but disappeared from her life in the last ten days. Juanita also played some of Mamo's favorite music, from Elvis Presley to an old crooner singing "La Vie en Rose". The later was Marianne and Katinka's parents' favorite.

As the day wore on, Magdalena seemed weaker and weaker, but comfortable in the end. Babi left mid-day, Juanita about 8:00, and I shortly after. Marianne and Gabby made sure Mamo was comfortable in bed and ready for a night's sleep. Schlaf gut.


Breakfast for Marianne, Gabby, and me was my duty, part of keeping busy. Besides, the care team needs to keep up their strength. We all reported a good night's sleep, courtesy of a very long Saturday.

When we three got to Room N10 at Nazareth House, Magdalena was sitting asleep in her chair. Not an immediate cheerful greeting like usual, but Marianne did intrude on her nap and asked about her breakfast. Mamo reported that the French toast had been "OK" and she had topped it off with cheerios, a specialty of the House, I think.

Katinka came over too and I took a break to do some home chores and watch Sunday football. Hard to concentrate, but I'm not such a rabid fan, even when the 49ers are having a good year.

quiltM and MWhen I returned back to Nazareth House, the family care team was chatting while Magdalena napped. It was good to see her peaceful, but we all missed her animation and humor. Always willing to stir things up, Marianne started talking to her mom and pretty soon the centenarian was awake and keeping up her side of the conversation. John, a nurse from the "regular" wings of Nazareth House, brought in a colorful quilt he had just finished. A few days ago, he had talked with Magdalena about his hobby and she perked up with his show-and-tell visit.

Katinka came back and took over conversations and dinner with mom while the rest of us went out for dinner at Irene's, a simple restaurant back in our Tower District neighborhood. We all had our own versions of comfort food.

We returned to a stressful session, with NH staff not being very responsive to needs Magdalena had. My impression, perhaps unfair, is that staff quality falls off on the night shift, or maybe its just that care duties, generally, peak from dinner through bedtime.

art showGabby suggested we take her grandmother out for a ride, a wheelchair ride. We went up and down the almost-deserted halls, looking for residents to greet. We met another Maryanne in the big TV room and talked a bit, long enough to discover that she shares Magdalena's December 23rd birthday. Elsewhere, our hallway excursion was part art tour, with (our) Marianne explaining the pictures on the wall to her mom. Mamo is essentially blind, but in her mind she could undoubtedly remember the pictured Dolomite Mountains of the painting. The ride was a great idea.G and M

Back in N10, it was time for nighttime preparations, the complications of which were a reminder of the difficulty of even a simple chore like tooth brushing, once mobility and strength are limited. Still, it was important to maintain life-long patterns, no matter how much has changed.

Mechanically lifted into bed by the night aide, Mamo was tucked in by daughter Marianne. Lots of comforting, in soft Hungarian and a little English. Gabby held her Mamo's hand and said "Sleep well" and I added "Schlaf gut", a German greeting we have exchanged at the end of a visit for as long as I can remember.

And that is how our Special Thanksgiving weekend came to a close.

Be happy because it happened ...

December promises to be ... challenging, and I don't know how much to document here in these diaries, but we'll see.


Marianne and John