Alzheimer’s and dementia attack the foundational values of who we are as Jews and Jewish families. We Jews consider ourselves the people of yikzor (remembrance): as long as we remember where we came from, we will have a sense of who we are and where we are going. So what happens when we or our loved ones can no longer remember what we had together or even who we are?
Don Weston, longtime congregant at Congregation Or Ami, reflects upon life as his wife Toby is consumed with Alzheimer’s disease:
The Day My Life Changed by Don Weston
My wife and I were married December 24, 1945; do the math. She wore a grey dress and I wore my Marine Corps uniform. My best man was my 4 year old nephew. All my other options were either on shipboard or at a military base and could not get to Los Angeles.
We were lovers, and then we were parents, then grandparents. Somewhere along this line, my wife Toby invented a ladies handbag which, after the bags sold to the new Disneyland, sales went all over the country, then to other parts of the world.
It was not a multi-million dollar company, but it became big enough for me to leave what I was doing and join her. She took care of the sales and production, and I assumed responsibility for the front office stuff. We were a team! What I am attempting to get across is the fact that we were always together 24/7, and we loved it!
In 2005 we decided it was time to retire, and we passed the business along to our daughter. It is still going and you can find it on the internet.
Diagnosis collapses our world
We were able to do some traveling and what was most important; we were together every day and that is all that mattered. Our world collapsed when my beautiful wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease! Alzheimer’s! What the hell was that?
At the time, I was adamant about keeping her at home for as long as possible. We hired caregivers and between us, we did the job of caring for her for almost two years!
Ultimately, Father Time caught up with me and our children convinced me that placing her in an assisted living organization would be best for both of us.
The day finally came and we brought her to one of the bungalows, with many of her personal things as well as family photos and a few of the needlepoint things that she had made. Her room is sunny and the people that help her are amazing in their kindness.
Learning to be home alone
I spent as much time as I could with her and then I headed for home. As you might imagine, entering the house gave me a strange feeling. This is not the first time I had come home and Toby might not be there; but somehow this felt very different.
I tossed my hat on a chair, took off my shoes, (to keep the rugs clean), and headed upstairs. I checked out everything up there and went back down. I looked around and got the strangest feeling that this was not my home any longer, it was just a house.
I turned on the TV and went to the fridge to scrounge up something for dinner, I took what I had found and sat in “my chair” to eat. During the TV program, I turned around to see if Toby was OK in here chair. Of course she was not there. I began to cry and I seemed unable to stop. That was the day my life changed.
There were other changes to come. Our house was put up for sale and that was handled by my two children. They both said that I should not be living alone and my daughter took it upon herself to check out suitable places and we picked out a place that suited me to a Tee. Please don’t give up on your kids, mine came through with flying colors.
Put your pride in your pocket
If you need help, ask for it from relatives, friends, temple members, anyone you feel can help with a problem. People want to help people. Last but not least, those kids again. They are smart, if not brilliant and eager to give you the support you need. Remember, it’s their Mom or Dad.
Kids, you might be surprised at what you may reap. I’m not talking money here; I’m talking LOVE, the biggest little word in the dictionary. If I hadn’t had my children’s love and help, I don’t believe I could have done this alone.
I’m settling in now and I visit my wife every day. On the 24th of December 2015, we arranged to have her brought (with a caregiver), to my son’s house and we celebrated our 70th Wedding Anniversary.
More Wisdom and Solace
Diagnosis with Alzeheimer’s or Dementia: A Prayer by Alden Solovy
Read the story of my grandmother Esther Kipnes, who died of dementia, in Broken Fragments: Jewish Experiences of Alzheimer’s Disease through Diagnosis, Adaptation, and Moving On (Doug Kohn, editor, URJ Press).
Re-Envisioning Alzheimer’s by Rabbi Michele Medwin
Moses and the Twice Told Tale by Rabbi Audrey Korotkin