Eight months of taking my mom to synagogue with me each Shabbat ended as abruptly as it started. It was this thought that struck me so powerfully as I stood in shul on Yom Kippur without her. Had I somehow failed her?
My parents had moved from Netanya to Beer Sheva in September 2017. It was a move motivated by Mom’s Alzheimer’s. If they were closer to me, I could help out more, be a 2nd pair of hands, allow my dad respite on the caregiver’s day off.
Within a week of the move, and with the help of my brother who was visiting from California, almost all the boxes were unpacked and my new neighbors began the process of settling in. Only, Mom never settled. She would wander the house looking for the stairs to the non-existent second floor. She’d randomly move and hide books and papers, fold and refold her clothes, search for the bathroom with little success, push the walls in the back bedroom as if looking for a secret exit. She developed a circuit of movements and I would follow her around their home trying to undo her inadvertent mischief.
On Fridays the caregiver left for her day off to be with her boyfriend and friends, returning to Beer Sheva Saturday night. And Mom would be solely in the care of my dad and me.
The best part of their move was that I no longer traveled once a week to visit my parents in Netanya as I’d been doing for almost seven years since Mom’s diagnosis. The worst part was that Shabbat began to feel less joyous for me. They’d come for dinner Friday night. Then Shabbat morning, I felt obligated to take Mom with me to synagogue. I did this for two reasons: my dad needed a break during the day; and Mom, with her beautiful singing voice, loved synagogue.
Except that her Alzheimer’s had progressed so much that what was once an easy task to negotiate had become burdensome. Mom often refused to leave her house, confused about where the door was, unsettled by leaving her husband. Once we were out, she walked with me willingly, but sometimes she mistrusted my directions, questioning me at every turn. Singing as we walked helped; we’d run through many Broadway musicals on the way to synagogue. Once we were there, it became obvious that Mom could no longer follow the Hebrew in the prayer book. Though she would sing without hesitation the prayers that she knew by heart, on more than one occasion I laughed when she leaned towards me and said, “This is so boring.”
I took to walking slower to shul so that we would arrive later. I brought children’s books with me so that we had something to read that was at her level. And though the walk back was fraught with difficulty, especially as the weather warmed up, there was that idyllic half an hour after services had ended when Mom was in her glory. She greeted my friends with such pleasure, and despite forgetting them from week to week (or hour to hour) she would bestowed blessing on them, parceling out hugs and kisses to whomever responded to her friendly overtures.
Everyone in shul knew about her illness. She was accepted lovingly by the entire congregation.
It couldn’t last. So much changed when they moved. Even with a 24-hour caregiver, Mom was difficult to handle. The move seemed to have pushed her to another level of decline. Eight months after their arrival, my dad made the heart-wrenching decision to move Mom to a closed Alzheimer’s ward.
And there I was, standing in synagogue on Yom Kippur without her. This is the first year that she is missing from my High Holiday experience. I know that she would never have lasted through the seemingly endless hours of davening. Oh but the singing, the heartfelt joy at the familiar prayers that are so ingrained in us—this she would have loved.
Did I give of myself enough to her when I had her with me? Did I keep her engaged? Should I have tried different activities on Shabbat like singing at home, or inviting friends to pray with us in a more serene atmosphere? Should I have stayed with her in her house where she was more comfortable and not minded the idea of being confined for hours by the same small space?
It does no good to speculate and doubt. As I try to articulate my loss, I realize that tshuva, repentance, is not about what has been done in the past but about the future. Can I change my interaction with Mom in the future to bring her small doses of joy without worrying about how I did or did not treat her in the past?
It is a different and perhaps more difficult experience to visit Mom in her new home, a closed ward here in Beer Sheva. I am mindful that there can be no status quo with a disease that consumes its “hosts” constantly. I am never sure what state I will find Mom in. But our visits are something I have committed myself to. I try to connect with Mom's inner spark, even if for a few moments. It is as much for me as it is for her.
May the coming year be filled with health, joy, and peace for all my family, friends, readers and the Jewish people.
I’ve been in my kitchen for so many hours recently, I feel like I should set up a bed and sleep there. Shabbat followed by Rosh Hashanah followed by preparing for Yom Kippur then Shabbat and Sukkot and now we’ve got another double-header of Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Each joyous holiday is occasioned by a three-course meal, up to 10 guests, hours of shopping, preparing, cooking, cleaning….
I’m not complaining. Not really. I’m aware of the privilege involved in having an abundance of food, good company to share it with, and the help of my loving family in making everything run smoothly.
Still, in mitten drinnen, in the middle of everything (as Mom might say in Yiddish), I took a break and made myself a special, tasty snack. I'd been wanting to try this low-cal waffle recipe for a while. I topped it with mango sorbet, fruit, and even a little chocolate sauce. Wow! I had so much more energy after taking care of myself. Try it. It might work for you, too.
Diet Vanilla Waffle
This recipe works well in a waffle iron or in a regular frying pan. It’s a great alternative to the pancakes the kids always want me to make. No need to share it with anyone. And, it tastes great in a sukkah!
1 vanilla pudding, up to 3% fat (130 gr / 4.5 oz)
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp baking powder
Combine egg, pudding and vanilla. Stir in flour and baking powder and mix until smooth. If using a frying pan, pour in an oiled (or buttered) pan. Flip when bubbles start to appear on the surface of the pancake. Top with ice cream, fruit, chocolate, or anything your heart desires.