Please, little squirrel – please move out of the way before it's too late... I apply my foot to the brakes and slow down. The tiny creature hesitates, then runs back and forth, and suddenly, in a split second, flees to the safety of the curb. The terrified, little animal went into survival mode, which kicked in just in the nick of time.

Moments later, still driving, I experience an "aha" moment. I think about the squirrel and my mother, and the incredible instinct for survival which they share.

The bond which unified their souls after their horrific torture in the Nazi death camps could never be brokenIt's about two years now since my mother moved in with us after a series of health crises which led to a frightening, death-defying, downward spiral until she finally found a sanctuary in our home.

Oddly enough, throughout my life, I never knew her real age; many who fled Europe following their liberation at the end of WWII had no documents verifying their date of birth, so a large number of immigrants, like my mother, either added or subtracted a few years to assist them in their quest for a new life in America.

It was all about survival.

A couple of weeks ago my mother discovered that another of her sisters had passed away some time ago. Although they had not been in contact for many years, the bond which unified their souls after their horrific torture in the Nazi death camps could never be broken. They had been four young girls huddled together, sharing their thoughts, nightmares (their young mother and brother were sent to the gas chamber while they were spared for working purposes) and morsels of food, trying to block out the sounds and smells of death which hovered over them like vultures.

Their instincts had saved them.

A week after finding out about the beloved sister she had lost, I questioned my mother in order to determine if she remembered the news.

"Was it bad?" she asked. For a moment, I hesitated, even thought about lying, but finally answered her honestly. I figured, at this point, that she had forgotten, but I was wrong. I began cautiously.

"Do you know how many sisters you have left?"

"Yes, there are two of us," she stated matter-of-factly as she gazed at me with those wise eyes.

So she did remember.

"Why are you asking me this now?" she inquired.

I realized, at that moment, that there was no point ever broaching the subject with her again.

Sometimes she remembers and sometimes she doesn't; perhaps it depends on what she can handle at any particular time.

I felt myself becoming dizzy with this newly acquired knowledgeIt was time, though, because we had noticed some cognitive losses and to arm myself with additional information for her regular medical follow ups, I decided to ask my mother if she knew her real age. Ever since I can remember, when asked her date of birth, she would reply with a coy smile, "In Europe, we never discussed our age." And that would be it.

But this time, when I inquired, she volunteered, without hesitation. I felt myself becoming dizzy with this newly acquired knowledge. Those few digits may not make a difference when you're in your twenties or thirties, but in your eighties, well, those extra years can be significant. She had kept her age from me all this time and unexpectedly revealed a part of herself which was no longer a taboo subject. It's as if she wanted me to know that she was old and vulnerable now.

The Survivor in her was preparing herself – and me.

Being the recipient of this precious information changed my perception of her. I no longer feel a desperate need to keep her out of bed as often; when she wants to rest her back, which is afflicted with a number of ailments, I bite my tongue whenever I can, despite my need to keep her more active so that her damaged heart can function better. She needs to be happy and rested, in order to use her remaining time well.

Somehow, she always knew what was right for her. She always understood what she needed to carry her through the next phase of life.

Quality versus quantity.

Even now, I realize her survivor instincts are kicking in.

Sometimes I feel like she is slipping away, every so slowly; her life force trickling out bit by bit. I often wake up in the middle of the night from vivid, frightening dreams and visions of losing her. Despite the huge losses she has faced, despite the ravaging effects of illness, despite the hands of time eagerly waiting to pluck her from my life – despite the grieving process I am going through – I still love looking into those beautiful eyes which nurtured and nourished me throughout my youth. As unrealistic as it seems, I never want her to leave me. But I know that when the time comes, no matter how painful it is, I must carry on.

In contrast to the deterioration in her sight from macular degeneration, her intuitive vision of what she needs – of what we both need – is strong and clear.

I still love looking into those beautiful eyes which nurtured and nourished me Throughout the years my mother has tried her best to help me be as strong and tough as possible throughout adversity. Now she needs me to be especially resilient and sturdy as she faces this last intricate and winding path on her amazing journey of life.

I have incorporated and welcomed my Jewish heritage and traditions more fervently since she's been with us. Not because she is observant or religious, for she is not, but because it is a reminder of who she is, who we are.

My mother has surmounted all odds and many obstacles in her life. I have learned so much from her, but the most important lesson of all is that each of us has the ability to get through just about anything.

She has also taught me that our minds are a complicated and wonderfully efficient machine, which can deal with an undetermined number of realities, depending on what it can handle at the time.

Prayer and her belief in G‑d have carried my mother through some tough times. And now, being a part of our household and embracing her Jewish roots have brought her peace and contentment.

We've come full circle in so many ways, because here I am, using my mothering instincts and skills to nurture the woman who nurtured me. And here I am, trying my best to listen to her, really listen to her and provide the dignity she so richly deserves. I hope that I can come through for her, that I can measure up to the level that G‑d wants me to rise.

The survival part, though, is not up to me. She does that on her own, both subconsciously and with all the will and determination she can muster, and shows me each day that it is possible. My mother, in addition to focusing on her own survival, helps me understand the importance of looking after myself, something I tend to forget from time to time.

And so, propelled by her endurance and grace, and inspired by her example of rising above any challenge, I am focusing less on the little things in her everyday life and looking more at the bigger picture.

Thank you, dear Mother, for teaching me that I, too, must survive.

Editor's Note:Unfortunately, Cathy's mother is currently in the hospital following a fall. We ask that you please keep her in your prayers for an immediate recovery. Her name is Ilona bat Sarah.