Tears & laughter
Author examines mother’s last year of life in ‘Pulling Taffy’
Tinky Weisblat started blogging about her 92-year-old mother, Janice, in the first days of 2011. It was a project designed to document one year of caring for a loved one with dementia.
But when she looked back on it later, in the months following her mother’s December 2011 death, it had become something more: not only an account of the final year of Jan “Taffy” Weisblat’s life, but also evidence of a shift in the author’s own outlook as a caregiver.
“I began writing about what I was losing. Somewhere along the line, I began writing about what I was finding,” said the Hawley resident. Online posts about tears shed over her mother’s deteriorating mind were gradually replaced by reflections on how Taffy’s personality and spirit seemed to find its way through the layers of confusion.
Weisblat’s self-published book “Pulling Taffy,” which was released Sunday, incorporates those original journal entries into one narrative — providing the readers an opportunity to see the year unfold just as the author had.
Like many patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, Taffy — who did not always correctly identify her daughter but felt comfortable around her — would often exhibit an array of emotions in a short period of time.
Weisblat recounted one June day, when she was moving with mother from Virginia back to their Hawley home. Taffy, who grew up in New Jersey, began to scream and cry inconsolably as Weisblat drove their car through the state — demanding that she be taken back immediately to her long-departed childhood home.
But not much later, wrote Weisblat, Taffy looked with delight at the landscape out the window and told her daughter, “This trip fills me with joy. Thank you for bringing me.”
For Weisblat, it was a year of tears and laughter, of worry and joy. And her journal entries captured all that, although she wouldn’t know it until she looked back on them a year later.
“I think that the stories that we tell, especially about our own lives, shape our lives,” said Weisblat. “So, for me, to be meditative meant that I was gaining good lessons from this experience and moving forward rather than just wallowing ... To me, the writing was, to a large extent, of making sense of the moment.”
In 2011, she saw supportive comments from the community of her blog readers. And last year, while working on the “Pulling Taffy” manuscript, she said she could feel her mother’s company through the words in the journal entries.
“It was very therapeutic working on the book last year. It was a way of letting go of her gradually,” said Weisblat. “She was still with me every day as I was going through the material and that was very helpful.”
The process also left Weisblat with a lot of physical images of her mother. The blog, and the book, are sprinkled with pictures of Taffy from 2011.
Weisblat fleshed out “Pulling Taffy” by adding a “meditation” after each month of journal entries. It was a way for her to write about pre-dementia life of her mother — a Mount Holyoke College alumna who loved to write poetry and travel the world.
The suggestion to include information about her mother’s past came from her blog readers, said Weisblat, who felt that it was important to learn more about Taffy’s background.
But although her mother was incredibly special to Weisblat, the author acknowledges that both her and her mother were fairly ordinary — which, she said, is a key aspect of the book.
It’s not billed as a “how-to” guide on caring for Alzheimer’s patients, but it does offer tips and perspectives throughout — both in the journal entries and the meditations.
Her top pieces of advice for caregivers? Find creative things to do each day, never lose your sense of humor and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“You have to be specific about it and can’t be unrealistic in your expectations, but people really want to help and sometimes they just don’t know (how),” she said.
Weisblat — author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and the writer of a regular culinary column and book reviews in The Recorder — doesn’t pass up the chance to incorporate food into this book. Immediately following the monthly meditations are recipes that she cooked with her mother. December’s recipe, salt-water taffy, was inspired by her mother’s nickname. The blog and the book title refer to the act of a “taffy pull,” in which people have to work together to complete the candy recipe.
Weisblat — who also recorded an audiobook of “Pulling Taffy,” her first venture into that literary form — will sign her book at the World Eye Bookshop, 156 Main St., in Greenfield, on Saturday, June 29, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Staff reporter Chris Shores started at The Recorder in 2012. He covers education and health and human services. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264. His website is www.chrisshores.com