The art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz

New Santa Fean friend Sue Rundstrom invited me to the Art and Remembrance presentation at the Museum of International Folk Art. Bernice Steinhardt movingly presented her mother, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz’s story of escaping the Nazis at the age of 15. Esther at 65, began creating fabric collage and embroidered art pieces, telling her history. Through film and photographs, we were able to connect and understand her resilience and courage.

Steinhardt facilitates a collaborative story cloth workshop. Below are some works by adults in an English education program.

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Memories and Reality

Recently I have been living in some old memories, before Alzheimer’s disease descended upon my mother and my family. I remember how she used to smile and chat while we discussed my job, my home, or my nieces. Sometimes we sat in our patio in shorts and zori and then we would stroll out to look at her orchids blooming in the shade of the mulberry tree. Other times we discussed what the menu was going to be for a family dinner and then chopped vegetables together in the family kitchen.

That was about six years ago though it seems much longer than that. Now she is living in a full service care facility in Reno, far from the family home in Lodi and my home in Half Moon Bay.

On my visit back in December she would not even open her eyes anymore or even really speak. My partner was shocked to see how much she had deteriorated since his last visit with her. I had been watching her progress over the years. She went downhill much faster after she broke her hip. Others had warned us that may be the case.

I so miss being able to connect with her. She has retreated into her own world. I think it is like a fog, but maybe that is not what it is like at all – I do not know. I so wish I were more evolved, so I could enter into her dimension, be able to communicate beyond the words and the physical. I try to just love her and hope she can feel that. I have sort of resigned to her condition. I feel myself hardening to feeling anything about it. This is just the reality.

Now I am back in Reno for a visit. My dad picked me up at the airport and we go directly to feed mom lunch. Today it is fish and green beans, hmmm pretty nice! Dad decides to ask if we can use the private dining room instead of being in the general one with about 30 other residents.

Today my mother’s eyes are open! She speaks. I am thrilled, even though it is in one word responses or short sentences that do not make sense to me. At least there is an attempt to communicate, to connect. She looks into my eyes and I am almost afraid to look back. Her gaze is so intense that it startles me.

I am so ecstatic to make a connection with her and yet this brings tears to my eyes and my feelings are overwhelming. I thought I was over this and now my heart is raw and painful again.

We go back for dinner with mom – a meal of corned beef and cabbage. Joe, another patient says it is left over from last night and is not excited. Again, mom is present and has a good appetite. Dad likes to mix in the little individual tubs of butter into her food and adds salt and pepper from the little paper packets. We cut up the food and take turns with spoonful of solid food and sips of milk. All seems well. Dad is happy she is eating.

I call out to her loudly, “Doris!” and she answers, “Yes!” If I call her “mom” she does not respond. She is no longer mom, but her own true self, just Doris. Earlier she names me “okasan”, mother in Japanese. It is all mixed up now. Oh well it doesn’t really matter, does it?

This morning we go back at 7:30am for breakfast. Mom is not so great today. She is very groggy. She is like she used to be – removed, eyes closed, not speaking. We barely get her to eat her French toast or cream of wheat. We leave and come back at lunch, pasta and zucchini and pudding. Again mom is too tired and we must really work to feed her. We ask if they have changed her medication and they say no. Did she sleep well? They say nothing unusual. Perhaps hospice came and gave her a bath – that could tire her out, says one of the nurses. I wonder if we should just let her sleep. It is very stressful today…I think I just want too sleep too.

“It’s a brilliant example of the rebranding of aging”

“It’s a brilliant example of the rebranding of aging,” said Mary Furlong, executive professor at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University and author of “Turning Silver Into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace.”

“People are living longer, and they want their brains to keep up with their bodies,” said Lisa Schoonerman, who is on top of the trend. She and her life partner, Jan Zivic, have opened a “brain gym,” called vibrantBrains, on Sacramento Street in San Francisco.

Read about it here, Brain gym’ may exorcise Boomers’ fears about aging