Thursday, July 17, 2014

On Aging and Reversed Roles

First the child cries when Mommy leaves, then Mom cries when the child leaves... We are in Baltimore about two times per month to visit my 91 year-old mom and 90 year-old dad. This past Friday when we left, it was particularly difficult as my mom cried and was visibly miserable when we walked out of the door of their wonderful Assisted Living facility that is now their home, as it needs to be.

Of course, it is so difficult to walk away and leave her like that, as it undoubtedly was for her when any of her three children cried at being left at school so long ago. It is at moments like this when you realize that yes, life has definitely thrown us into reversed roles.

As we watch and rejoice as our eldest daughter, Yoella and her husband, Jeremy’s three adorable girls – Neli and Neima at almost 4 years of age and Adel Raya heading towards 4 months --- learn more and more and put together so many pieces of the puzzle called their life, I watch my mother’s completely unravel. This is dementia.

It is unsettling and upsetting to see this person that looks like the woman that raised me but to remember that I cannot assume there is memory or sense of where she is at any given moment. If there is, that is a major victory like when little ones begin to walk. However, unlike new skills that will be strengthened and reinforced in these young and relatively new lives, in my mother’s case, this is fleeting, and any knowledge or awareness of this moment in time may or may not be continued for the next moment.

This is a completely different relationship. It is one based on memories and respect and a sense of Kibbud Av v’Em for me. For my mother, I am not sure what it is based upon. And then there is my dad – who is so sad and frustrated. This is in many ways even more painful to witness.

A friend of mine at Israeli dancing and I speak about how we are fortunate to be amongst the few in our age bracket in this group that have both parents. Her parents, Baruch HaShem, are generally well and still vital in their own way. This is the case for most of my parents’ remaining friends as well, whom we saw recently at the birthday celebration we had for them.

We as Jews bless each other with the words “Ad Me’ah v’Esrim” meaning, “You should live until 120 years old. The blessing is wonderful as a platitude. As for me, I really do take that seriously – I have a lot to do and want to live a long and healthy life, as we all hope for …. except in looking at my mom and seeing the fear, the confusion and the complete lack of sense of context too often in her disoriented face, I have to wonder….

One thing I have been doing is sharing information about what we are learning about aging with those that are directly related to my mom. As our medical professionals tell us, we have and are making great strides in living longer. The question is how to we prepare to live longer and more healthily?

It is so hard to see my mom this way. I remind myself daily this is the meaning of adult children observing Kibbud Av v’Em – to continue to treat her with the respect and honor she is accorded, whether or not she is aware that I am doing so.

May we all live to 120 with health, a sense of well-being and a feeling of accomplishment.

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