15 Adar B 5779 / Friday, March 22, 2019 | Torah Reading: Tzav
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Moment of Clarity    

Moment of Clarity

Recently I visited my son and his family. My four-year-old granddaughter, Hadassa Shira, sat on my lap and gazed at me intently. “Bubby, are you a hundred years old?"


Recently I visited my son and his family. My four-year-old granddaughter, Hadassa Shira, sat on my lap and gazed at me intently. “Bubby, are you a hundred years old?" she asked.


“No.” I answered.


“Are you a hundred and fifty?”


“No,” I answered.


My other granddaughter chimed in. “Bubby is too old to know.”


In honor of that observation, I am sharing with you a story I wrote when I worked at a Center for the Memory Impaired.


Helen comes every day, wearing colorful clothing and long bead necklaces. She breezes through the door of the Senior Center where I work and introduces me once again to her foreign helper, who she thinks is renting a room in her apartment. “I couldn't refuse,” Helen told me. “She’s an old friend of my daughter’s and had nowhere else to go, poor thing.”


A former schoolteacher who had clearly been pretty, Helen is still articulate despite several years of dementia, although she does repeat herself. Helen tells me every day how she put herself through college by enlisting in the Coast Guard, and every day I pretend to be hearing about it for the first time. “That’s amazing,” I tell her. “That is just amazing.”


But I remember one conversation with Helen that went beyond the constrictions of cognitive impairment.


One afternoon we were sitting on a bench outside the club, waiting for her daughter. Helen could not understand why her daughter insisted on picking her up when Helen lives just a few blocks away. “I don’t know why she worries so much,” she complains. “I’m perfectly capable of making my own way home. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for thirty years, for goodness sake!” I don’t bother reminding her that she moved to Israel two months ago. When you work where I do, you learn to stop correcting people. It just shuts them down.


Helen enjoys philosophical discussions. She can offer sound advice on being a good neighbor (always return what you borrow and never flirt with your neighbor’s husband!). To get her mind off her indignation, I ask her what it’s like to get old. People with dementia are uninhibited; you can ask them almost anything.


“Old people often feel unwanted,” she explains. “That’s because we are reminders that everyone ages and dies. No one lives forever. There’s a breakdown in body and mind and people don’t want to face it. I don’t want to face it either and I’m 85! I have ten more years, at best. But if I dwell on dying, it takes the joy out of life. And there are always joys, every day, no matter how old you get. Thank God for that!”


I hear the voice of Helen the teacher in her moment of clarity and I hear the voice of truth. This time I really am amazed. We sit quietly until her daughter drives up in a dusty blue Fiat and honks gently. I help Helen off the bench and hand her the red leather purse of hers that is always empty. We slowly approach the car.


“Was she good today?” asks her daughter, grinning. Before I can answer, Helen laughs.


“Isn’t that something?” she marvels. “My little girl has turned into my mother!”



* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen is a certified Emuna Therapist for Breslev Israel. You can set up an appointment with her by contacting staff@breslev.co.il 

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