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At the Edge of an Abyss? Part 1

Beginning the last chapter.

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

Longevity has many blessings. It has given us the gift of time, and if we are blessed, that time provides millions of people with untold opportunities for new experiences.

Longevity has its challenges as well. I have written in this space about new life stages that our longer life spans have created. I have written on the life stage of caregiver, which can last for years.

It now seems that I have encountered another aspect of that caregiver stage. My mom, who is in her mid-90s, is now dealing with an accelerating case of dementia. It had, in the past few months, begun to take away her ability to function. It has landed her in the hospital and confronted us with new choices and new realities, among them being the fact that we have begun the last chapter.

As many of you know, it is easier to teach the “art” of caregiving to a class than it is to live it. As many of us learn, it is easier to speak about working with a parent than it is to try to make sense of the illogic of a moment with a mom or dad who may still see you as her or his child. Standing in a hospital corridor, it is daunting to be faced with the need to understand, within just a few moments, the complexities of negotiating the Medicare-Medicaid health systems. But many of us do.

I keep trying to remember that this will all work out and that it is important to take care of the “me” that can so easily be lost. A doctor I spoke with kept reminding me to remember to eat right, exercise, and take time each day to try to renew the soul. Certainly there is enough literature on this to support the fact that the health of a caregiver is of primary concern given the stresses that must be endured. Yet, as many of you know, it is easier said than done!

So, we have entered a new stage of this long caregiving journey. Longevity is a blessing—for some. But for others? We value and praise the value of life. Every religious tradition does, and no one argues or finds fault with that. A challenge, however, for an increasing number, will be to remember the gift and beauty of life in circumstances that challenge that gift. An underlying value still is “dignity and sanctity.” At the edge of an abyss of unknown proportion, it is a calling to remember that dignity and sanctity, and safety and security, are still present and powerful aspects of life, even as that life begins to make its final turn.


Generation to Generation?

Finding meaning in the circle of life.

By Rabbi Richard F. Address

The other day I had one of those “moments” that come out of the realm of the unexpected. I should have been prepared, but, as with most of us, I was not.

On December 4th, my small family gathered to celebrate my mom’s 95th birthday. My mom has emerged from an October hospital stay in not-so-great a state. Her dementia is accelerating and she is now in skilled nursing. The change in her abilities within this calendar year has been staggering. Now in a wheelchair, she carries on.

So, on the 4th, I picked her up at her nursing facility and drove to a very close restaurant, one of her favorites, to share the celebration. The highlight for her was being with her 19-month-old great granddaughter. My mom’s face lights up when this little girl appears.

We ordered some lunch and fell into the usual family dialogue. The food came and it became obvious that, after a while, my mom needed some help. So, I leaned over, cut up some of her lunch and helped her eat.

As I did this, I looked up to see my daughter trying to help the baby do the same thing. In a moment, a life cycle! There was a 19-month-old learning how to eat on her own, next to the 95-year-old, trying to remember how to eat.

For some reason, this moment struck me. Around that table at that moment was another scene of generation to generation. The Book of Ecclesiastes rang true, one generation passes as one comes and “there is nothing new under the sun.”

I am sure many of you have had a similar experience. There is something mystical, even spiritual, about such moments. They remind us of life’s fragility, its limits and, in a way, push us to keep in mind that the time we have on earth is not to be wasted. It is also a not-so-subtle reminder that relationships, especially across the generations in a family, are to be treasured.

December seems to be a time that our society tries to remind itself of such emotions. Between Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwaanza, families emerge as a powerful theme and generational bonding is in the forefront of experience. Sadly, by January, a lot of this is forgotten, or stored away until next December!

So, a wish: Take the time to treasure the moments and the memories you are creating. Don’t let them be packed away, but celebrate them and honor them throughout the year.