It is said that, as one matures, we "shrink" our parents so that the mother and father who seemed so tall and all powerful become our equal or not so tall after all. One day, we begin to listen to what they are saying in a language that is easier for us to understand. They walk a little slower, call more often, need an extra hand with packages, and lag behind in a world in which everything moves a little too fast.

One day, the phone rings and we are confronted with the reality that one of our parents is ill, or worse, that one has died. Despite having reached adulthood, we react at first like lost children. No longer is there the familiar sense of having a safety net. If both parents are now gone, there is a feeling that I can only liken to standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, having to jump, and no one in front to give us time. We are it.

The endless silence has begun for her There is little more painful than having to step up and watch the helplessness and anxiety of a surviving elderly parent, stripped of the comforting closeness of a life long partner. The endless silence has begun for her. My mother has never balanced a checkbook, never made certain we were insured, never calculated the tip on a restaurant bill, and never had to remember to lock the doors at night. All we could offer was benign neglect, long distance empathy, and frequent contacts with her neighbors who would look in on her for us. Mama does not want to give up her apartment. We assure ourselves that nothing will change. But it does, and we are needed.

The children of aging parents, raising children of their own are referred to as "the sandwich generation". This is where we are now. It's my task, my mitzvah not only to see my daughter to adulthood, but to help my mother make the transition from wife to widow. She needs us as she never has before and the task seems daunting. It doesn't take long for us to realize that she cannot live alone with us at a long distance. She weeps, not only for the loss of my father, but for the loss of her independence and her home, with its familiar reminders of a long life lived.

I shall never forget the sight of her arriving at our home, satchel in hand, dragging her feet as though they simply did not want to move forward. Her chest heaves with the effort to keep from weeping. We had had many long and difficult talks about this, but the reality is more than she can bear. The most sobering thing of all is the growing awareness that some day this would happen to me.

When the time comes to make the difficult decision as to what arrangement is best for everyone, it is undoubtedly a no-win, no-win situation. My mother had always been a very independent person. She prided herself on the fact that she raised me on her own and, despite her dire financial straights, saw to it that I always had nice clothes to wear, good food to eat, and any school supplies and field trips the other kids had. No way was her daughter going to have less!! When the tables had to be turned and I was to be caretaker, one could all but hear her heart break.

It seemed all would work out well living in the same houseHer health was still relatively good. The mere thought of placing her in a nursing home was just as awful to us as to Mama. We met as a family. My daughter and mother had always had a warm relationship and it seemed all would work out well living in the same house. My husband offered to wind up my mother's affairs in Florida; that was encouraging to me since I intuited the doubts he had. There are countless things to consider, not the least of which were bearing in mind that this was not a "little old lady", but rather a woman who had had a long and useful life and continued to need respect and affection.

The transition is not an easy one, even under the best of conditions. Think of it as playing musical chairs. Each one in the family has to move over one chair and make room for another. Hopefully, there would be chairs enough for everyone. Expectations have to be updated to accommodate change as we all learn how to be an expanded family.

I have learned by now that a mitzvah is far more than a rule or guide for living a good and honorable Jewish life. It is the act, the doing of good deeds that enrich and honor both the recipient and the giver. From the day we are born, it is a given that we do what we can and must for our parents, as they must for us. Honor thy father and thy mother, it is written. The more difficult the task and the more we do, the more we are blessed. Here was the God-given, golden opportunity to perform a mitzvah for Mama.