There is a Yiddish saying: “One father can take care of 10 children, but 10
children cannot take care of one father.”
The commandment to honor one’s
mother and father (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16) truly gets tested when our
parents get older and become more frail and dependent. It is often a
painful process for the adult children of aging parents to watch their once
healthy and independent parents gradually lose physical and mental
For some aging persons, aging is a very gradual process, and
they remain relatively functional and live out their lives without too much loss
of their independence. Unfortunately, this is more the exception than the rule
as aging, particularly getting into one’s 80s and 90s, often wreaks havoc on the
elder person and surrounding support system, be it friends or family
Common health issues facing the elderly population can include
frequent illness, a weakened immune system, sight and auditory impairments,
physical disability, injuries from falls, stroke, cardiovascular problems,
dementia and severe memory loss. Social relationships might be difficult to
maintain in old age because of health limitations, death of friends and lack of
transportation, making this population vulnerable to loneliness, depression and
Some adult children rise to the occasion as their parents age.
Others shut down and cannot handle the pressures that occur. It is not uncommon
for siblings to get angry at each other about taking care of their elderly
parents, particularly if one sibling lives nearby, thereby “inheriting” most of
the burden, and is jealous of the other sibling further away. This is a common
occurrence with olim who as a result of moving to Israel have left behind
One thing is certain: Many elders need plenty of help, and no
matter how much pride they have in maintaining their independence, there comes a
time when doing it alone just isn’t going to work anymore. For the adult
children of aging parents, this time of life can be seen as a crisis.
as a cognitive therapist, I prefer to see it as a very special opportunity, and
while challenging, a chance at giving back some of the love and care received
from one’s parents. The roles are now reversed and yet it seems like a
natural development in the life cycle.
My 98-year-old mother-in-law,
Elaine, is a case in point. Elaine had been living on her own in an apartment
complex for elders in the Boston area for 10 years following the loss of her
husband. In the beginning, she was able to manage her life, made friends, and
was assisted by her son who lived nearby and visited her often, keeping her
But as the years passed, Elaine experienced
increased memory loss and her functioning deteriorated. First Elaine received
additional help from a caregiver who came into the apartment for a few hours a
day to cook, clean and help her shower. However, after she fell twice within a
year, necessitating hospitalizations, an operation and extensive rehabilitation,
it became clear that she could no longer live alone.
At this point her
son decided that the best and wisest alternative was to put her into a nursing
home. It was at this point that my wife decided to bring her mom back to Israel,
not wanting to see her placed in a nursing facility which she was sure would
lead to her quick demise.
So, in December 2009, Ruth flew with her mom to
Israel and Elaine, almost 96 years old, made aliya. In fact, The Jerusalem Post
wrote a short story about it, with a photograph. With the help of Nefesh
b’Nefesh to expedite the aliya process, and the helpful advice of fellow olim
who have gone through the same process, we chose to rent a nearby apartment and
hire a wonderful companion and caretaker for Elaine.
Elaine lived quite
well. Her family physician joked around and stated that when she turns 100 he
had a ruble to give her.
Certainly there have been many trials and
tribulations taking care of Elaine’s health needs and one or two health crises,
but this amazing Russian-born woman continued to enjoy her life in Israel with
her children and grandchildren. Every Friday night Elaine sat at our Shabbat
table, sang Shabbat songs, and had often been the center attention with our
children and our friends.
Taking care of Bubby had been at times very
taxing, but the pleasure we all felt to see her smile brought great benefit to
the entire family. For my wife, the journey to make aliya has now closed an
important circle. Ruth was able to take care of her aging mother and make
sure she got the care she needed and deserved.
Since writing this
article, Bubby was hospitalized and subsequently passed away
peacefully. We will miss her dearly but will always remember the love and
smiles we shared together and the security she felt being close to all of us and
getting so much love and care.
The writer is a marital, child and adult
psychotherapist practicing in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ra’anana.