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Printed from chabad.org
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Our Parents

Our Parents

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My maternal grandfather, whom we lovingly called Zeidy, didn’t speak the same language as his young grandchildren. But Zeidy knew other languages as well—the language of the Talmud and its depths of understanding, and the language of purity and character refinement—both of which increased his proficiency in the often wordless language of love and connection to his beloved family and students.
It was almost like taking care of another child.
When did they age? I was shocked to see my parents, particularly my mother, looking fragile and vulnerable when I walked through the door, excited to spend Shabbat with them.
I rang the bell, and my big brother opened the door. “Daddy’s dead.” I screamed, “You’re lying, you’re lying!”
I wasn’t sure what this trip would be like, since we hadn’t been camping in a while, and we were hardly kids anymore. But not only did this camping trip work well, it shed a whole new light onto my family camping experiences.
My grandparents were forced in one direction, my mother and her sister in another.
Each year I struggle to make my father’s memory relevant to my children’s lives. I fight against time itself, which threatens to eradicate the deep connection I shared with my father.
Men walk into your apartment carrying a stretcher. “I’m not going to the hospital,” you say.
My mother had a special corner we children called “Mommy’s nook.” The nook was a haven that attracted the unfortunate—spinsters, widows, women who were destitute, lonely, or otherwise down and out.
Although my mother, of blessed memory, passed away 17 years ago, around the time of her yahrzeit (anniversary of her death) I always remember the extraordinary series of events that ensured I made it to her funeral.
We switched roles. It was my turn to tuck her in, with sweet whispers on the evening breeze. As she drifted to sleep, I sat by the hospital bed (and later the nursing-home bed) and sang Yiddishe lullabies—Jewish words and melodies.
I’d see a father playing with his children and feel a deep stabbing pain. A friend would mention asking her father for advice, and I’d feel jealousy running through my veins. I could easily end up in tears by reading a children’s book about happy families.
I was young, naive and immature, and she seemed, well, foreign. You know the ways of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Too many phone calls, and it’s an invasion of privacy; not enough, and you say she doesn’t care . . .
How did I do it? How did I learn to accept, and even love, my critical parent? I identified seven steps, what I call the “Seven Healing Tools,” which enabled me to deal with a difficult person. I apply these tools to my mother, and to any and all difficult people I come in contact with...
I tried to extract as much wisdom and guidance from him as possible. “Talk more, Dad,” I pleaded. “I just want to hear you speak. Your words are my inheritance. I’m going to embrace them forever. Tell me what matters in life. Tell me what’s real. Tell me what to do when times get tough. Tell me how to cope without you.”
On autopilot for all those months, I think that if I had stopped to think of what I was juggling, and what I was witnessing, I would have crawled into bed and not gotten out...
Emotion and life were not part of the gray house on Andrew Avenue. Yes, there were four people living there, ostensibly a family. In reality, just four people sharing two bathrooms . . .
I thought about what my daughter said and realized that, no, I was not my mother, but I was so happy to become like her. By emulating her, I was keeping her close to me . . .
I would become the mother I never had. I would heal by giving and by being generous. I would heal by being positive, optimistic and uncritical. I would heal by being elevated. I would heal by being respectful, sensitive and empathetic to my children. I would heal by continuing to treat my mother with sensitivity and respect despite it all . . .