Aging has been on my mind a lot recently. My mom is nearing 88 and my dad is now 92. It is difficult living far away from them. I’m sure mom will age in place, but I worry she will be isolated if she becomes house-bound. Meanwhile, she is still out and about, meeting friends for lunch and ushering at cultural events. When we were discussing my upcoming visit, I couldn’t resist asking her to cook a favorite dish for me. She was so excited! For as long as I can remember, it has been a tradition mom has always honored such requests for birthdays, home-comings and other special events. A couple of days later, she told me she couldn’t recall how to make this particular dish. I realized then how important it is that over the years I have been writing down these recipes, though it never occurred to me she would forget them herself. She was so happy when I sent her the recipe. There is something so wonderful about cooking for those we love – and enjoying what is cooked special for us! This tempers some of my anxiety about checking in with dad.
Dad lives at an assisted living facility. Despite loss of hearing and vision, and living with dementia, he has often expressed to me a sense of boredom. Makes me wonder how many other folks facing these changes feel the same way. I cherish the days, and they still exist, when dad is ready for a good conversation. Mindfulness practice has been useful in helping me be in the moment, take it all in. This is good because dad is not likely to recall the conversation. Today was a really good day. He seemed content – and thrilled not to be facing the bitter cold in Chicago. Sometimes when he can’t recall something he tells me his “hard drive is full”! Though there are plenty of days when dad doesn’t pick up when I call – mostly because he can’t hear – meaningful conversation is still possible and important for both of us. Every once in a while I will hit on a question about which he has lots to say. I have notes scribbled everywhere, all collected in a folder for my on-going effort to write up these stories as part of his “Torah” – the wisdom gleaned from the many stories he has told me about his life combined with my own memories. I am working on my mom’s Torah as well.
Even though I did not grow up with grandparents, or maybe because I didn’t, recording memories has become very important. All of us living in different states and continents(!) has made memory-making and memory-sharing challenging. This especially as my daughter is readying herself for a move to New Zealand. At least she’ll be closer to my brother, who lives in Australia! You get the picture.
This week, as our the biblical patriarch, Jacob, nears the end of his life, his fragility and advanced age stands in sharp contrast to the man who once triumphed in a struggle with an angel. This is especially poignant not only in light of my own parents, but also as 60 is rapidly approaching. Someone once told me that the hardest thing about aging is that you don’t feel old inside. It is just that your body is beginning to wear out. So, when my dad told me how great he feels today, my heart was filled with gratitude and joy – as it is by the knowledge that mom is busy preparing a special meal for us. Sure, tomorrow could be a totally different story, but today is good.
All of these experiences have raised my awareness and cultivated a desire to work with the aging – or the s-aging, as Reb Zalman taught. Co-facilitating the Institute for Jewish Spirituality program, Wise Aging,” for men and women in their 50’s – 80’s continues to be personally growth inducing. Through reflections shared and insights gained, we support and nurture one another’s continuing growth. This underscores the importance of community for people of every age and life stage. This even for those in need of memory care. And thus begins my adventure as part-time rabbi for a new community opening in the my area: Northbrook Inn Memory Care Community. What an honor and privilege to provide spiritual care for the residents and their families, along with clergy from other faiths.
As we prepare for the opening celebration, we face the challenge of transforming a building into a home, a safe haven. We need to make this a place where the residents are seen as viable human beings and not as people “suffering from” dementia. Our fathers and mothers do not experience themselves as”shells of their former selves.” True, we may suffer from sadness and loss, but they deserve all the love and engagement possible.
Here is an excerpt from my words for the upcoming dedication:
“May this be a house of courage
Where frustration is met with patience,
Loneliness lessened by engagement.
A place where
Healing and growth are nurtured and
Where forgiveness prevails.
May this be a house of vitality,
Though words may be lost,
Through music, art and creative expression.
A home where meaning
Fills the void
Of memories no longer accessible.
Additionally, as part of the opening celebration, I will offer words about the transformation of this new building into a safe, welcoming home for those needing memory care.
To those in the Northbrook, IL area: Whether you are a Jewish Communal Professional, clergy or someone concerned about serving those in need of memory care, I hope you will join me for the celebration and to learn more (invitation attached). The welcome and dedication will begin at 4:30pm.
Northbrook Inn Memory Care Community
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
4:00 – 7:00 pm
99 Pointe Drive
Northbrook, IL 60062
RSVP ASAP: (224)261-8352 or northbrookAA@koelschsenior.com
**Please share this information with anyone you think might also be interested in attending.
Thank you for your support!
And, may every journey bring blessing.
Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi