It’s been two years since my mother passed away. Her yahrzeit this year is the night of Dec. 13.
Time allows for clarity and, as such, I can mostly see what occurred during my mother’s last months and what was required of my four siblings and me to comfort her amidst the utter chaos of “disappearing.” We didn’t have it easy, but on the other hand, we were spared the worst type of grief children can go through.
Our mom was sick for a year. She had the beginnings of dementia and a heart ailment. Her moods would swing, sometimes dramatically. There were times she would yell at us. But she had a right to.
Mom lost her licence during that year. Nobody asked her. We just cancelled it. Mom yelled at me upon finding out she was no longer allowed to drive, and I felt like a guilty kid. I remember her exact words: “Do you think you know better than me, what’s good for me?” The thing was, at that point, my sisters and I did know what was better for Mom. The roles had switched. (It was then that we all realized our childhood was nearly over and a new life as orphans was soon to begin.)
But my family, in some ways, had it easier than others. Taking care of Mom wasn’t enjoyable overall, but it was doable, especially with the five of us heavily involved, along with assistance from two highly capable Filipino caregivers. (They are now out of our lives, but forever appreciated and respected for the compassion and genuine love they showed our mother.) In short, there were many families we knew who had it so much more difficult than we did.
A very close friend’s mother, someone who was once vibrant and bursting with life, had basically “disappeared.” Her character had gone out of her and her body had become decrepit, regularly shutting down and backing up. My buddy and his siblings accepted the task of watching over their mom in sickness, as they had in health – and they suffered. I often heard my friend say, “I so wish my mother was dead.”
A fellow I met through Ve’ahavta’s street academy, a school for the homeless and near-homeless, told me he had taken care of his aging mother for seven years. This middle-aged, very poor man explained to me that taking care of his mom meant such things as changing her diapers and bathing her. “I had no choice,” he said. “There was nobody else to do it.” He was an only child, and taking his mom to death’s door was his responsibility. He lived up to it brilliantly!
Two brothers who are my close friends and associates watched over their mother day in and day out for eight years. The two bachelors had moved in together and took shifts around the clock. Eventually, their mom became abusive, both mentally and physically. She had never been like that before the dementia. The boys agonized terribly as their mother’s health diminished. And like always, after their hell on earth, she died. She was gone and they were relieved.
My mother’s second yahrzeit is upon us. Two years have passed without her and we now exist parentless, the generation to soon experience the frequently nasty days of age. Looking back, however, with more clarity, I can see the gift my sisters and I were given in the guise of taking care of our old and sick mother, and the mercy granted us by God for not having it so much worse.