They call them “The Sandwich Generation.” They are a generation who do their best to take care of their aging parents and observe the mitzvah of kibud av v’eim (honoring one’s parents) while caring and raising their precious kinderlach (children). One of the most difficult tasks for members of The Sandwich Generation is when they realize that their aging parents can no longer care for themselves and have to move to (preferably) the home of one of their children or perhaps to an assisted living facility.
As painful it may for the child, it does not come close to the angst and anguish felt by the elderly parent who is being forced to leave the only place they have called home for the last sixty-five plus years. As a rabbi, I have observed first-hand as an elderly parent has been forced to pack up decade’s worth of memories and downsize from the family’s large home to a one room addition to a child’s home or a one room studio apartment at an assisted living facility. I have cried along with elderly women (more often) and (less often) men as they left their homes for the last time.
My most painful memory is that of Mrs. Tessi Treitenburg. Mrs. Treitenburg’s husband passed away thirty years ago and since then she has single handedly married off the last three of their nine children.
She was a woman who after her husband’s death, went back to school and earned a degree in library science. She became a librarian at the age of 56 and supported her family without ever taking one penny from anyone. And now it was the time for Tessi to leave her home.
Her daughter asked me to be present when the family came to take her from her soon-to-be former home in Passaic to her new abode in Lakewood. I was there for moral support and watched as the events unfolded. As Tessi slowly walked out of her home, she paused and while gripping her walker, intently and almost defiantly reached up to kiss the mezuzah on her front door. She knew this would be the last time she would kiss the precious object. As Tessi stood there with her hand seemingly attached to her cherished mezuzah, her daughter called out, “Mom, please we have to go.” Tessi said in barely audible voice, “Please, wait for me.”
“Mom, we really have to go now. There is always traffic this time of day on the Parkway. We have been waiting for almost an hour for you to get ready; the kids are getting nudgy! We cannot wait anymore!”
Tessi hesitated as her trembling hand lovingly touched the mezuzah. She recalled how she had touched the same mezuzah the day she left the house for her husband’s levaya (funeral) and how she affectionately kissed it as she departed her home for the chasanahs (weddings) of all of her children.
This time though was different; this time was the last time. There would be no returning home. From this point forward there would be no more Chanukah parties in her home. From now on she ceased to be a balabusta, the matriarch of the family; beginning today she was a guest in the home of her daughter, relegated to one bedroom and a small refrigerator. She would not be in charge; rather, it would be Tessi who would be dependent on others; no one would be depending on her any longer.
Her daughter called out again, “Mom. PLEASE!” I approached the daughter, “Your mother spent many hours waiting for you and your siblings in this house. She waited for you when you came home from
school and she waited for you to talk to you about your dates… She spent many a night by your bed when you were sick as she waited for your fever to break. She waited for you when you forgot to call home and she waited for everyone before she would begin the family Chanukah party. Perhaps it’s only right that just this one time, just this once, you can wait for her?”