I was in the middle of teaching a class at our seminary, the Hebrew Union College in New York, when I was interrupted by the vibrating phone.
I had forgotten to turn it off. How fortuitous! It was my mom’s assisted living facility letting me know she was being taken to the local hospital.
Her care-giver/companion would ride with her and meet my wife. I left class, sprinted to Penn station and caught the first train I could back home. By 4.30pm, we were all engaged in the ER, discussing with the doctors a new reality. In a matter of moments, the ground of reality had shifted and new realities emerged.
This is not new to many of us. The “call” will come and, in a matter of moments, or hours, everything shifts. This “R” factor of life is present with greater frequency, especially us baby boomers who care for elderly parents. My mom’s dementia had accelerated in a way that took us all by surprise. Her hospital stay was followed by her current residence in a skilled nursing facility that deals a lot with dementia patients. It is a new reality for her, and very much a new one for her family. I can and do teach about the Jewish approaches to this issue, but, as many of you can attest, it is much easier to teach it than to live it. It is easier to theorize about being thrust into the “system” than to try and negotiate it.
Part of the first lesson that was learned was to be able to let go of the role. I was no longer the rabbi or teacher, but a son. No longer the professional, but someone who needed to accept help and guidance from people who knew the system and understood what needed to be done and when and how. Thankfully, the hospital social worker, a wonderful woman named Mindy, was able to handle me and the situation with my mom with care and sensitivity.
So now a new, and probably the last chapter begins. It is a challenge. Myself and my family are still trying to figure out how to deal with this new reality. Yet, one thing remains constant, and it is reinforced by the teachings of Judaism. Though her dementia is powerful, my mom is still with us. Still enjoys company, a touch and caress and familiar faces. As I am writing this, her great grand-daughter is visiting her and that brings joy that is beyond measure. We are all learning what this means and how people act. I welcome any thoughts and experiences (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or add a comment on this blog post) and hope that this transition for her will be as peaceful as possible.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.