It is one of the saddest things to experience. That period of time when you realize a parent may or may not know who you are anymore. I had heard many people say this as their parents suffered through the last phase of their lives, but to actually live the reality hurts through and through.
It is not personally hurtful because you understand the circumstances. What hurts is how cruel it is. From the beginning of the downward slide, the most consistent thing is how you can never hope that your parent is ever going to get better. What hurts even more is seeing how quickly one’s mind can literally disappear.
It seems to go from irrational thinking, to memory loss, to losing the ability to speak. From that point on, it is a steady, sad march to increasingly losing more and more mental and physical capacity. It is hard to imagine anything worse, and yet there are so many people, and so many families, in and outside of our community, who endure this every day.
It is the everyday part that gnaws at you. A day doesn’t go by that you don’t have this awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. There is a big gaping hole in your family’s life that relentlessly goes on and on with everyone feeling and knowing they are powerless to change the feeling of losing a parent before you actually lose them.
Visiting loved ones in long-term care homes is never easy but, as dementia worsens, as it always does, the visits become increasingly difficult. The point is reached when there is no means of conversation, and words aside, it is so hard to visit when there is so little, if any, eye-to-eye recognition, and seemingly no way to communicate the simplest things like, “Hi, it’s Jason, your son.”
You find yourself in this twilight zone of nothing making sense. A lifetime of memories explodes in your head from years gone by as you wish you could remember the last meaningful conversation you had. And then you think of how beautiful it would be to go for coffee and talk about children and grandchildren and what they are up to.
Knowing that conversation will never happen doesn’t stop you from wishing it could. It would all be good and positive, and I know my mother would be very proud of all 12 of her great-grandchildren because nothing was more important to her than watching her family grow.
Pesach is family time. Seder nights are a time to be together. It is when and where family traditions begin. It is often where a child’s Jewish memories begin. But when a living matriarch can no longer attend because of a prolonged health issue, seder nights change significantly.
Nothing is forever, and while change is constant in everyday life, you grow up thinking family seder nights will never be different because every year, for so many years, seders were a standard-bearing constant in your life. Aging, death and terrible illness shatter the mould.
In most families, needless to say, seders can and do take on new life in new locations. But thinking of the mother who brought you into the world, the mother who worked tirelessly to make seder nights as special as she could for her children and grandchildren: you never forget your mother’s heartfelt commitment to family.
While it is so disappointing to see my mother as incapacitated as she is, this Pesach, her third year away from a seder table, helped me come to grips with the intrinsic value of my memories of seders past. The memories are many. Through those memories I see so many phases of my life pass in front of me.
I remember my first seder at my mother’s parents’ apartment. In the ‘60s, I remember how only a seder could overtake the importance of an NHL playoff game in hockey-crazy Montreal. In later years, I remember loading the car and four children and rushing from Ottawa to Montreal to get there on time.
Most of all, I remember how beautiful and how special my mother tried to make everything. She wanted everything and everyone to shine. The best linen, the best silver, and the best food.
I wish she were well enough to hear me tell her that.