Title: Full Time Daughter
Byline: As told to Debbie Shapiro
Renee Smith is an extremely busy woman. In addition to mothering her children still at home, and being there for her married children and grandchildren, she heads an extremely active older N'shei division, is in charge of a group of women who regularly set up, serve and clean up for brissos in the community, volunteers to do sewing repairs for local women who don't know how to sew, operates the English language library, volunteers once a week in the zoo, is an active quilter… and is a devoted daughter to her ninety-seven year old mother.
My mother moved to
eight years ago, when she was eighty nine years old. Today, she lives next door to us. We were fortunate to successfully secure the services of a foreign worker taking care of her around the clock, as well as a Jewish woman who comes in for a few hours a day to do the cooking and to accompany her to her doctors' appointments. However, the responsibility for my mother's care falls completely on my shoulders. Israel
Since my mother is in a wheelchair and can't get out very much, I bring the outside world into her home. I've arranged for a weekly shiur as well as the monthly senior N'shei potluck Rosh Chodesh lunch-and-lecture to be held in her living room, and she loves the socializing! I also take my mother to all the simchos in the neighborhood, although it can be complicated to maneuver the wheelchair on stairs and hills. Everyone knows her – and loves her – as Bubby.
We have four generations at our Shabbos table – my mother, my husband and I, our children, and our grandchildren. My mother enjoys her role as the senior member of the family, and we enjoy her company and include her in all our family get-togethers.
Yet, there is also the downside of living in such close proximity to a parent. Being with my mother takes a tremendous amount of emotional energy, and as painful as this is to admit, I find that I have less patience for her than I do for strangers. She almost immediately forgets whatever I tell her, and she repeats the same story over and over – and over -- again. I really don't understand my impatient reactions; perhaps it's because I'm under so much stress from being constantly available for her. If an elderly man or woman on the street were to repeatedly ask me the same question, I'd probably be the paragon of patience and explain the same thing again and again, but with my mother - well, it's a real challenge.
There's another thing too. I have a very busy life; many children and grandchildren, lots of guests and outside commitments, but when my mother wants something, she expects me to drop everything and do it immediately – no waiting around! When she wants a non-urgent prescription filled, or to schedule a visit to the doctor, even after I explain to her that the pharmacy is closed or that the doctor is on vacation, once she decides that something has to be done, that's it, it has to be done NOW!
My mother grows really nervous if I'm not around, which makes it extremely difficult for me to travel. This winter, my grandson’s bar mitzvah will be in the States, and I am hoping to be there. Yet, my anticipation at attending the simchah is marred with worry over my mother's welfare. Her blood pressure shoots up when she's tense and nervous, and when I'm not around, she gets extremely tense and nervous, so, simply put, my leaving will have a negative physical (as well as emotional!) impact on her. The physical symptoms may not be permanent, but, she's ninety seven years old, and she's my mother – so you can imagine my guilt at leaving her! I'm torn between my sense of duty to my mother, my desire to see my grandchildren and my responsibility toward my husband, who has his own health issues. There's good reason that we're dubbed the "sandwich generation!"
Despite all the challenges, I'm glad that we're taking care of my mother rather than placing her in a nursing home. We were fortunate to find an apartment next door, so both of us retain a bit of personal space. Living close by has been a beautiful opportunity for the children and grandchildren to get to know their grandmother, while she has had the nachas of seeing her grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up.
My mother realizes how much we're doing for her, although at times she might forget. She tells everyone that I'm her best daughter and that my husband is her best son-in-law, (she fails to point out that I'm her only daughter!) We have our difficult moments, but we have lighter moments, as well. We enjoy playing card games together, and we love to kid around with each other -- she has a great sense of humor.
So yes, although there are real challenges, I'm extremely grateful that I have the zechus of taking care of my mother in her old age. I wouldn't give it up for anything, and b'ezras Hashem, I hope that I will be able to take care of her (and be in good health to do it!) until she's a hundred and twenty years old.