All the gates of Heaven are closed except the Gates of Tears.
Berachot 32b, Babylonian Talmud
The best place to cry is in the shower. You can break down with impunity. You can claim you got soap in your eyes. For only God sees your heartache.
Of course, you have to cry quietly. I remember the first time I heard my father cry. He had just received word that his father had died. His sobs echoed in the tiled bathroom and filled the apartment with palpable grief. I was 12.
I did my share of quiet crying over Passover. It wasn’t one thing in particular, just the realization that this is our reality. It was the little things. Mom insisted on helping wash the dishes, but then never quite washed them. She kept putting egg peels in the butter dish. She sang the same songs over and over. She couldn’t even remember it was Passover. The worst was when we were leaving the local train museum and she insisted that we had to find “Miriam.”
“We can’t leave her here. How is she going to get home by herself?” Mom asked.
No amount of gentle reasoning changed Mom’s perspective. “I’m going to yank her by the hair and bring her home,” challenged Mom. She’d never done anything like that when I was growing up. My husband finally volunteered to go back to “find” Miriam and bring her home. That appeased Mom, and by the time we got home, the incident was over.
The kids had more trouble than I expected engaging Mom. I was hoping they’d chat and sing with her. Instead, they mostly stayed away. I can’t blame them. She doesn’t remember who they are most of the time.
She loved petting our cats. They responded to her overtures with loud purrs of enjoyment at being stroked.
I was reminded again how central music is to Mom. As we were getting ready to leave for a day trip to the Alexander River Park, Mom was sitting quietly on the couch. My husband put on a recording of Gilbert & Sullivan tunes, and she was up dancing and conducting, so filled with life and good cheer.
Why do we need a gate of tears if it is always open? Perhaps it is to allow us to bare our inner pain in a constructive way. Our tears ascend freely to heaven, and the gate suggests there is a destination for them. We cry when we know there is someone to answer us.
There is a famous saying by Hillel the Elder in Ethics of the Fathers that seems to sum up the essence of taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, who am I?
If not now, when?
Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
As caregivers, we must balance taking care of our loved ones and taking care of ourselves. Unbalance the scale in either direction and someone loses out. When I’m with Mom, I try to be there 100%. It’s better when there are two of us looking after her. She needs us on an almost constant basis, from the minute she gets out of bed and wants to shower, to the day’s many activities, to putting on her pajamas and climbing into bed at night.
In order to restore my batteries, I built in a day of Passover all to myself. My parents had returned to their home; my kids and husband were all on different trips. I stayed home and ate ice cream.
The last part of Hillel’s statement also rings true. If not now, when? It is a reminder that the now is precious, and that there can be significant joy in living in the present.
This week my aunt Barbara and her friend Brian arrived from England. They will be with Mom and Daddy for two weeks. Barbara is a real pip. She loves to laugh and tell stories. She thrives on fun. I think her presence will be a great boon to Mom. Their shared childhood memories will be precious fodder for quiet conversations or loud singing sessions. I hope Barbara realizes that this is a working vacation. Down time will come later. Let the wild rumpus begin!
We made several batches of Passover brownies this past week. Don’t get me wrong. I love Passover, but nothing compares to the smooth chocolaty taste of brownies as they were meant to be made.
Uncle Ze’ev’s Brownies
Sometimes I purposely undercook these brownies to make them melt in your mouth. Uncle Ze’ev still makes the best brownies around.
1 cup flour
1 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp vanilla
¾ cup canola oil
Chocolate chips optional
Mix dry ingredients. Add eggs, vanilla and oil and mix well. For an extra chocolaty taste, add chocolate chips. Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes.