I'm in the kitchen, peeling onions and my eyes begin to sting. The tears well up and I taste the saltiness as they begin to roll down my cheeks. I have given myself permission to cry now. It's the onions, after all…

My mother lives with me, my husband and three of our four children - and oh yes, the two dogs. I adore my mother. She has these exquisite, deep, intuitive, hazel eyes, which now suffer from macular degeneration… and those eyes have seen the darkest and brightest of moments…

I'm struggling to remember the spark - a fierceness and Herculean strength

The memories of my mother when she was young, strong and fearless are fading. I'm struggling to remember the spark - a fierceness and Herculean strength emanating from her all knowing eyes - eyes so sharp and so focused on her tasks as she would dart quickly throughout her day… The same terrified eyes which witnessed her young stepmother and brother being shoved into the "other" line by the SS officers. It was that line which led to the gas chamber where millions of Jews met their fate, while she and her sisters were the "lucky" ones who were forced into labor camps.

They were the lonely eyes which searched the shore but met no ones gaze as she stepped off the boat to Canada completely alone following her liberation from the camp. "Camp." What an odd name for such a hellish place. They were the eyes which visualized a hopeful future despite the horrific murder of half her family members and they were the eyes which looked dutifully into those of my father as they were wed not long after their brief courtship and her arrival in this country.

Those beautiful hazel eyes smiled at me when I was born and greeted my little brother with the same love and miraculous sense of wonder when he came into the world 5 ½ years later. She devoted her life to us. Every single day.

We were just kids when my father died in 1970 following a long series of illnesses including COPD, emphysema, a stroke which left him hemiplegic for the remaining 7 months of his life and finally, pneumonia which mercilessly extracted his last breath. We were shielded from seeing my father during those final hours, but my mother observed everything. Those soulful eyes watched painfully as my father fell into a coma and slipped away from her, from us… leaving his young family with nothing but a tiny insurance policy. I'll never forget when my mother wiped away the tears, picked herself up, bought a duplex with the insurance money and looked for work to support us. After all, her children were going to college, and on to university. Those opportunities were not available for her, but her children -- her children would follow their dreams. She would make sure of that. And she did. She was there for us, no matter what.

The woman with the insatiable eyes read books, took courses and learned new languages

Meanwhile the woman with the insatiable eyes read books, took courses and learned new languages (in her spare time) between her job, the chores and helping us with our homework. Sharp they were those eyes. They spoke on their own. No need for words when her eyes told us everything with one look.

Over the years my mother's eyes melted at the sight of my children. She would often gaze at them in wonder and shake her head, uttering some Hungarian term of endearment as she played and crawled on the floor with them. She would kiss their perfect, tiny feet. She was forever on her hands and knees playing those wonderful imaginary games and singing to them.

She was never sick. She never complained and was always strong, tough as a bull my mother was… until one day she felt as though her heart was going to pound its way right out of her chest. She dragged herself over to the nearest medical clinic without saying a word to any of us.

My mother doesn't remember much of that day except for the doctor shouting "Ambulance --- STAT!" He couldn't believe that someone of that age and condition (she was literally dying) could walk over and present herself the way she did. I believed it. She had been in Auschwitz. She had endured the most severe, horrific experiences one could ever imagine and survived.

We received a call informing us that my mother had been rushed to the hospital, having suffered a number of heart attacks. Why hadn't she called me, I asked myself, as I rushed frantically to be at her side in the ER. Well, she explained rather matter-of-factly, she was worried about me as I was still recuperating from major surgery which I had a couple of weeks prior… She was worried about me. Did I mention that she had been at my side at the hospital, right after the operation and throughout the complications which followed? She was already ill then, although we didn't know it. The guilt was completely overwhelming, the intensity of it drowning me and pulling me under a huge wave of fear. But the thought of losing her forced me to forget my own discomfort and slide into 'automatic pilot' mode. This time my mother needed me.

They were confident that she had an excellent chance

My mother - my rock - required a triple bypass. "Would she survive?" I asked the doctors with crazed anxiety. They were confident that she had an excellent chance, despite her age. She was of Eastern European stock — strong as they come.

Of course she would make it. I only had to look into those determined eyes to know the outcome. Several patients who had undergone similar procedures died around her during those weeks, but not my mother. She wouldn't let an event such as open heart surgery take her life after all that she had struggled through…

Much of what followed remains a distant blur to me, but some memories of that turning point in our lives remain as vivid as if they happened yesterday. I was by her side every day, looking at her through a mess of tubes and monitors……She would wake up once in a while, her eyes full of fear and bewilderment — until she met my gaze. I realized then that G‑d had a plan for me, that it was my turn now to reassure her with one honest, loving look, one that said it all. I am here for you no matter what.

At one point while still in the ICU, she asked me - by scribbling on a pad of paper - to bring her glasses from home. Those eyes that had seen so much suffering now wanted to read, to live, to see another few years with her loved ones. I knew then that she would survive this…. that we would share more time together. She eventually made it home and the strong ox of a woman from Hungary now had to take a least a dozen pills daily. Her life had changed drastically and she mourned the loss of her independence and strength. She resided alone for about 4 more years with our assistance, until she became weaker, suffering a couple of minor falls here and there. She had become depressed, spending much of her time in bed despite the medical team's and my best efforts to keep her active.

"Why doesn't she move in with us?" my husband asked one day. I was stunned, overjoyed that a son-in-law could be so giving and kind. Yet I was somewhat frightened, despite my many years of experience with the elderly as a geriatric social worker. But in my heart I knew I could do it. I looked into her dignified eyes and said — It's time….for me to give back to you… And so began the next, most challenging and and incredible part of our journey as mother and daughter.

It's been nine months since my mother moved into her new home, here with us…. the onions are peeled… My mother is in the kitchen with me (as my 'souse chef,' she says with a wink) and she's wondering why I am crying — her wise, no longer intense but peaceful, searching eyes probing into my soul as she always does. And I know, as I look lovingly at my mother that she is still caring and giving. So who then is the "caregiver"?

I wipe away the tears from my eyes.
"The onions," I reply. "It's the onions."