A Memory not to be Passed Over

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Memories are nonlinear. There are certain circumstances that arise that send us back in time to another age or another space. It can be a new experience, feeling, smell, song, piece of art, literature, or photograph that transports us.

Many of these memories are not necessarily accurate. They are pieces that reflect the spirit of these moments and sometimes may be reframed in a more desirable way. Two people can witness the same event and process it quite differently. They may also wish to relive the event with a heightened sense of nostalgia.

I wonder about long term and short-term memory. I too find it puzzling when I vividly remember something that happened over 20 years ago yet have difficulty recalling what I did yesterday.

I see this in hospice care. Short term memory is so fleeting for so many and there seems to be a simplicity when patients share the tapestry of their lives.

Dementia is a debilitating condition that affects both individuals and families. It is also nonlinear. There are waxing and waning days of clarity. Sometimes the right song, smell, or picture can transform a moment in surprising ways.

The greatest mitzvah and one of the hardest things to do is to meet someone where they are. Especially if we are talking about our loved ones. It is so difficult to sit in this space feeling helpless and powerless to change the current set of circumstances.

Perhaps one opening is curiosity. To allow something new to emerge. I have been blessed to experience brief moments of the ineffable in such trying times.

One that comes to mind is last Passover. It was the second seder night and I was invited to dinner in the Delaware County area. I was working in Broomall and getting ready to chart my visits in preparation for the evening. I received a phone call from a colleague asking me to visit a potential patient who happened to be Jewish.

There was a knowing inside me that this request was more than just the ordinary. It was a Jewish patient in a facility in Montgomery County, on another hospice service, on a holiday, and I had dinner plans. What are the odds?  This felt like a calling.

It was one that I answered even though there was great resistance in me. It was a shlep to go to Montgomeryville, it wasn’t my patient, it wasn’t my area, it wasn’t even a company patient. My day was supposed to end early…, yet I went. I’m glad I went.

The patient was located in bed wearing oxygen, unresponsive, nonverbal, and his wife was sitting by his side. I sat with his wife discussing her husband’s disease progression, her 54-year marriage with him, and his pastoral care needs.

As she was speaking with me about family and their relationship a butterfly decal fell from the window. When I asked his wife about butterflies she shared that her mother, who had passed away, was close with her husband and her mother liked butterflies.

I sat down next to her husband, read from a Haggadah since it was Pesach, and played Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach. Her husband who hadn’t spoken for about a month began to mouth the words along with the prayer. He started to speak and shared that he was a teacher at his synagogue. We chatted for a while and said the Shema together.

I ended the visit allowing his wife to have this valuable time with him as he appeared to be rallying. As I exited the room, I saw a man standing outside the door. He may have been the patient’s hospice chaplain.

I know in my heart that I was called to be his Jewish chaplain for the day. I will always treasure my experience with him and his family praying together. He passed away two days later and he never signed onto our service. I am grateful that I was called to remember. May his memory be for a blessing.

About Chaplain Cindy Tanz 4 Articles
Cindy Tanz works as a Clinical Chaplain/Bereavement Coordinator for Serenity Hospice PA in Bensalem PA. She is a member of (CPSP) College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy and completed (CPE) Clinical Pastoral Education training at RWJ Barnabas Health Hamilton NJ.   Cindy journeys with patients and families of all faiths through end stage disease progression celebrating life, advocating comfort, and acknowledging grief. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner, Reiki Master, and Animal Assisted Therapist.  Cindy lives in Southern New Jersey and is a member of Congregation Kol Ami, Cherry Hill, NJ, and Main Line Reform Temple, Wynnewood, PA.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Cindy, for sharing this memory. It is an inspiration to me to listen to that still, small voice and answer the call to just be with someone. I don’t have to do something or fix anything, just be with others. We never know what it will mean.

  2. Thank you, Cindy, for sharing a beautiful and inspiring memory. You were there when the family needed you, and that was a great blessing for all.

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