#BlogElul 5776 #ElulGram – Elul 15: Change

ailing_treeAs much as I want to show how positive I can be when it comes to writing inspirational notes, and doing the work that will ensure I make the necessary moves to be spiritually prepared for a good year, the theme of “change” is a trigger to my fears and sadness.

The season this year has been extremely lenient, we are experiencing a drought that is unusual at this time and it feels like rain is long due. It rumbled but it did not break today. Maybe later when I am finally asleep. The windows are still wide open because the heat has not yet diminished despite the sun setting. I know that until some colder temperatures happen at night, the leaves won’t change into the bright colors of fall that make it so pretty to walk in our wooden area.

I noticed the change in my favorite tree next to our houses by the lake. I hope it is just the drought that gave it that rusty aspect. I had never noticed that it would change colors, to me this tree is an evergreen. My first thought was that it might be ailing, because of some sort of disease. It made me sad all of a sudden and I snapped the picture to see how it will compare in some days and to monitor the changes if any.

There is no room for life if there is no change.

It is inevitable. And permanence is reassuring indeed, but it can’t be sustainable. We need to change. We need to make room to the future. To the next generations. If they learn from us, we learn from them too. We can still change, even when we grow older, and the illusion that everything should stay the same for the sake of order is not healthy. We constantly change, because our cells are alive. Sometimes, fighting too much against change creates such stress and the cells may win the fight and start living an erratic life of their own. And something happens that make our world changed forever.

I am finally accepting a lot of what I used to rebel against: in my fear of change, I stiffened and hurt. When I am more open and flexible, there is more room for the flow of life, that goes with change. All the previous themes I have already reflected upon in this series are finding their place after they danced around in my mind independently: the dots are starting to connect, and because of acceptance of the inevitable changes, I am starting to be much more at peace with so many goodbyes that I have to say to what I knew and that is no more or that will be no more. I am ready to welcome the Fall.

This year, I have committed to a daily blog in English to participate in @imabima’s project of Elul. I will dedicate my endeavor for the רפואה שלמה complete healing of   מרדכי אלעזר בן חנה מרים (Mordechai ben Chanah).

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Update 5 from South Salem, NY

My two boys back together Dear Friends,

It has been nearly a week since my last letter to you. I have now returned home and I keep contact with my mother mostly through my older brother, via email and hangouts, and with speaking to either of the two dedicated aids who live at home to help caring for mom, on the phone around lunch time, which is morning breakfast time here. During the weekend, my brothers have installed the laptop on the dinner table to allow a skype conference and mom was happy to spot her grandson say “hi” but she quickly closes her eyes, because she is immediately tired now.

Never one day at a time has meant more what it means than during this odd summer for me. I was so relieved to be back home after experiencing the heat wave in Paris, as well as dealing with the emotional roller coaster of caring for my mother along with my two brothers on a daily basis for a little more than a couple of weeks, during which several stages of deterioration of her functions occurred.

I was comforted in my decisions by how things unfolded, and I have no regrets because it felt right to do what we all did, and also because it was a wonderful time with my cousins, my mother’s cousins, and many friends who had a chance to speak with me directly, when this opportunity had not arisen in a long time because I live here.

It felt good because I had complete confidence in my son with autism being as happy as can be, as always, and I received so much support from the most wonderful staff, at his school, as well as at the respite house where he lived, and from the transportation department who went above and beyond to make sure that I always knew he was well taken care of. A mother cannot be more happy about that, and a citizen cannot be prouder of the town she lives in for the services and care that are offered to a student with special needs.

Then, I received such a warm and wonderful welcome as soon as I arrived home. I felt so much love and care, I could not stop talking to my friends and neighbors with a smile, as if nothing sad was happening on the other side of my life and my heart is soaring from the love that is surrounding me. Even though a life is ending slowly, and even though there is pain in witnessing such a process, it feels as if my mom is still gifting me with the gift she has always had of making the world nice and welcoming, festive and warm, friendly and full of stories to tell!

Today, we went to pick up my youngest at camp after a very successful summer as a counsellor there. Our home is back to being full and for a minute I could pretend that life is back to normal. Alas, I know that any time, I can get some news that we do not want to hear about. As we prepare for different stages in our lives, like sending off to college, or starting a new school year in a new town, or starting a New Year for those of us who are Jewish, preparing for the ultimate stage of one’s life seems very strange and uncomfortable but I think it can still be beautiful.

I hope this letter finds you all having some beautiful moments from the summer to share.

With love always,

Update 4 from Paris

A new leaf

Dearest Friends,

As I am still planning to return home this coming Thursday, in order to have the necessary time to move my youngest to college after he finishes working at URJ Eisner camp for the summer, I am feeling in a heartbreaking situation leaving my mom and brothers behind.

This past week has been filled with family reunions during the week end, with loved family visitors who stayed for meals, and we were able to set a big table with food, laughter, animated conversations like they have always been the family habit in the past, with mom sitting with us at the table, and obviously happy to do so, despite her intense fatigue.

I had been able to attend shabbat services, both Friday night and Saturday morning, with the honor and pleasure of an alyah (going up to say the blessing before reading from the scroll) for parshat Ekev (the weekly portion in the Torah), and such a loving blessing from rabbi Delphine Horvilleur (yes, we both like claiming that we are related and reminding all that we are cousins). This warmed my heart and was a needed slice of time in an already different and odd frame of time in the week.

Mom is now completely unable to walk by herself. Even from one room to another, we have arranged to wheel her. She does not feel like talking anymore, although she can, and hears well (actually better than she used to). She has been sleeping more and more, and eating less and less.

The heat is still high in Paris. Giving her enough water is our constant worry, and some of the medication meant to lessen the swelling has a side effect and she is getting dehydrated.

Hospice at home is very well organized and all the nurses love her and she likes them. We have had some new running jokes, and she does not forget them and enjoys cracking them. Still, she is now the shadow of herself, but the smile and lack of complaining have not left her. She just does not want to talk over the phone and does not rejoice at visits in advance anymore. However, she winced at knowing we had to return home.

My younger brother was able to postpone his departure and will stay until the end of the week. I feel terrible to be leaving, but I feel my sons are expecting me. I made a promise to my autistic boy I cannot forfeit now. This has been the longest time ever I had left him and he seems to have done fabulous. I need to see this by myself now to appease my fears and wonders, even though I know he has been flexible and well taken care of.

Thank you all of you, for having followed my updates and for your lovely comments and news. It has been a difficult summer for me and I sometimes feel a bit ashamed to bring shadows and clouds into what is the time to relax and think of only replenishing strengths for the coming year of busy lives. But your loving responses have brought me solace and help to keep going on. My travels are not over and I am so grateful for your presence always.

With love,


Update 3 from Paris

2015-08-02 21.30.09Dear Friends,

A good chunk of time since my last update. I am not the best organized traveler away from home and I tend to depend on my various hosts schedules instead of following my well established routines when I have my life and work at home: I feel cut from the news of my world while I am staying on slow motion, sitting next to my mom, answering the phone and giving the same news over and over: so many friends who were used to hearing from her directly, but she is not keen any more to speak with anyone, and simply wants to close her eyes, sometimes sigh in a not very charitable way if the person who called was not her favorite of the moment!

I still get as much as lashon hara (the evil speech or gossip) or back stories about neighbors and friends that I have not known, with less significant details that would explain why some of these nice callers would be not too welcome to chat at this more difficult time, but I can easily guess: it could be that they do not share political views, or that they are not always interested in the same important topics as gardening or cooking or literature or the grandchildren, their studies and their intelligence, well, you know, we are all the same after all!

But it is now time to cut to the chase. Mom wants to know what I told them, and then invariably tells me that I said it right: “It is perfect!”. She is staying positive as she has stayed her entire life. Everyone is nice and lovely. But those she does not want to entertain, she dismisses them with a gesture of the left hand, like you are chasing an annoying fly, and she utters a “pfuuui’ that means a world.

Meals are now very long and slow. As my younger brother is going to arrive this evening, my mother mentioned that he was going to be ruthless with her. She admits I have been more patient and lenient with her taking her time, and not always finishing the plates. I have had a teacher in patience with my autistic son for sure. He also taught me to notice very tiny and significant changes in behaviors. Every day, mom has been declining in a tiny way that one would not necessarily notice at once, but the leg is dragging, the moves are slower and sometimes the planning is forgotten: she is surprised to pick up a fork and wonders what to do with it or she dozes after she has started to swallow.

Last Sunday was a good day: no visits and plenty of time to listen to the silence. Memories came back as she was pointing to the paintings she wants us to keep. I recorded the stories that were told several times and stories that had never been told.

In the evening, five of us cousins spent time for a pleasant dinner on a terrace and spoke about our parents, mom being the last living parent of the three common siblings branch, memories are warm and never sad. Time is slow and like it is holding a tenuous breath.

Thinking of you all, with love,

Update 2 from Paris

View of the roofs and the Eiffel Tower

Dear Friends,

Today, Thursday morning in Paris, under a beautiful sun, with a balmy 67 F, I am thinking of you all, knowing that the previous heat wave has now reached the East Coast. I am in the full swing of the Parisian rhythm, meaning starting the day a bit later, and seeing the sun out until much much later, with early dinner after 9 pm. The phone ringing and the friends and family asking for latest news and if they can come by, arranging everybody’s schedule so that mom’s home is not like Grand Central at rush hours. Going to refill supplies, medical and otherwise and giving news to the neighbors and the pharmacists.

I have forgotten I am a stranger in my hometown. I smile when someone I have spoken to figures it out that I must be a foreigner to be that nice and helpful, because a true Parisian would never speak with someone they have not known, and even less think of helping with a random information! So I have already heard twice that I have no accent in French and speak it perfectly which is pretty hilarious. It pleases me to be an advocate for the kind ways of the US and be a good ambassador for how helpful we always are, even if I know pretty well that both ways these are just stereotypes.

My mother has had a couple of “bad” days: she barely was alert, until on Tuesday for dinner, when with one of my cousins we had a feast with a “foie gras”, a glass of good red wine and lots and lots of laughter and reminiscence. After such a dinner, mom slept a full night and was more alert yesterday, with a busy day filled with visits, friends, flowers, the doctor who is a young Jewish woman also from North Africa, so we enjoyed sharing out judeo-arabic jargon to explain how mom was feeling (like yiddish, judeo-arabic barely translates all the multiple nuances that could be contained in a single word expression, and it felt good being understood at the same time as reverted to “mother tongue”!)

Talking with my cousins and relatives, either on the phone or during their visits, can be a bit emotionally draining, because I repeat a lot of the same, and some have difficulties grasping with the idea that our always alert, busy, bustling and joyous mom is now barely moving and getting less and less alert every day, with lapses in her memory, while still being so present, smiling and laughing with glee at everyone’s presence.

I am having good conversations with her and she misses her beloved so much that she feels good that we can talk about my father together. I have asked her oldest cousins to take the opportunity to recall their childhood memories, since I have no personal references except from what she wrote about and told us, but she enjoys filling plenty of gaps that are now coming back. This morning, she was not so sure she was living in her Paris apartment anymore and thought that she was in a childhood place because of some visiting plans made with her niece and her grand-baby. Getting her to overcome confusion in a non threatening way has become every hour’s goal. Her pain management has been efficient so far, and everyone makes sure she does not forget to mention when she is uncomfortable.

She still enjoys eating the very delicious food that her aid, Jeanette is preparing. Jeanette is delightful and talkative, loves cooking and is ecstatic about mom’s kitchen which contains everything she needs to prepare food: she can tell mom was a fabulous cook and both of them can bond very well around their meals. Our table is still always open and it is a joy to have guests happy to share our stories and memories.

Thinking of you all and not forgetting you. I will keep you all posted.
With love,

Update 1 from Paris

Under the towerDear Friends,

I made it very safe to Paris during Saturday/Sunday night. I had the pleasure of being upgraded to Business Class by AirFrance and was looking forward to a good albeit shortened night sleep during the flight, when unfortunately the next aisle passenger happened to have been a true obnoxious French lady who managed to create a near riot in the entire business class lounge by mishandling her poor 4 year-old grandson who happened to be autistic: little did she know she was sitting so near to a real expert who could assess the situation in a wink and know exactly how badly she was handling the situation.

I could have killed her if my judgmental thoughts had been a deadly weapon. Especially when she proceeded to spank the mischievous child who was desperately trying to get her attention to his needs, and justified that he “needed limits” ~ which prompted me to finally tell her that she was the one who had overpassed hers.

I found my mom much better than I had feared it, and very able still although physically very affected by the cancer. I spent most of the Sunday with her and we shared lunch when she had good appetite. The aid at home is wonderfully professional and caring at the same time. My brothers are tense but efficient too. She has a good amount of visitors at home and phone and enjoys a little time interacting with everyone. And is still sharp and plenty of good laughs and sense of humor. She complains a bit about pain and discomfort at short periods of time and I still have to see what the nurses medical assessment is and she is relieved by few drops of morphine. She is delighted I came and wants us to make plans for the HHD as she still believes she will get past her weakness. She has some expected short term memory lapses.

I will keep u posted.

Hope this update finds you well and with only good news.
With love always