My Bubby’s Blessings.
Despite her dementia, Bubby never forgot to bless God.
It rained today. Actually, it poured. As if the skies were opening up after granting us too warm weather for this time of year. And it thundered, roaring thunder followed by bursts of light. I said two blessings – one for lightning and one for thunder. When I whispered the one for lightning, I saw flashes of my bubby.
Bubby was so full of life when I married her grandson almost two decades ago. She was busy giving me plenty of advice. (She had no qualms about giving her opinion either.) Life was full and Bubby was busy. She was a great writer and a voracious reader. She was a powerhouse of faith and strong in her values and beliefs. Her iron will allowed her to thrive despite challenging circumstances. She lost her husband at fifty and single-handedly worked to support her several young children. She managed not only to raise them, but to produce upstanding, Jewishly committed and wonderful offspring.
And her memory! Jewish geography was one of her favorite pastimes. She remembered everyone’s birthday and anniversary, sending a handwritten card for each occasion. She knew all of her past students’ names (and there were many). She knew who was related to whom and where they were from. She recalled every good word we said, every funny anecdote of her great-grandchildren… until she didn’t.
Until she lit candles on a Tuesday night to usher in Shabbos; until her kettle boiled over and burnt out one time too many; until it wasn’t even the birthday she couldn’t remember, it was the name of the person celebrating it.
But she did remember one blessing always, even at the very end, the one recited over lightning. O’seh Maase B’reishit; He Who created the beginning. My mother-in-law would often muse over this as Bubby mistakenly said that blessing over her cup of water (and after it). She said it as she lit Chanukah candles, and as she ate an apple. She forgot so many things, but she never forgot to bless God.
It was very painful to watch a strong capable woman fall into the abyss. How could it be that a lady like her, a lady who after her husband’s sudden death emerged as a pillar of strength for her children, now had to be handled like a child? Please take your medication Bubby; it’s for your heart. Yes, the one you just had surgery on. No, no one is trying to poison you.
How could it be that a voracious reader and eloquent writer could not even recall the simplest of words? Yes, Bubby, it’s a pen, let us know if you want to write something down.
And how could a teacher by profession not even remember her aide from day to day. Her name is Emily and Bubby, she is here to get you dressed.
I try to remind my children of the first eight decades of Bubby’s life, not the last few years. I tell them stories and anecdotes of who she really was. She was who she worked decades to become; she was not the disease that robbed her of cognition. I tell them that the brain is an organ that is a gift from God, and sometimes it fails to function.
It was so agonizing to watch my father-in-law watch his mother slip away. The care that my mother-in -law showed her mother-in-law continues to inspire me. For many years she faithfully fed her, gave her medicines, and took her to what probably amounted to hundreds of doctor’s appointments. Eventually, she suffered a stroke and all was done to save her, but she passed away peacefully.
The brain is so complicated, so full of synapses and transmitters way beyond our understanding. Dementia and its related brain conditions are so cruel. As Bubby slipped away, sometimes she knew it, which was even more painful than her eventual oblivion. Sometimes she was angry and frustrated and she was almost always in a state of confusion. But she never forgot one blessing – to bless God who created the beginning.
And in doing so, she taught us to never forget either.