| Musings |

The Kindest Woman  

               She’s the level of nice that has always caused me to feel protective of her

MY mom is the kindest woman I know. She’s been known to bring sandwiches to the homeless downtown. Every time she sees me her eyes light up and she says, “Wow, you look beautiful today,” and she sounds like she means it, even when I’m still in my pajamas. She’s the level of nice that has always caused me to feel protective of her, as if she doesn’t understand people’s evil intentions.

When I was little my parents divorced and my mother was left penniless. Even then she never said a mean word about my father. My father had custody of me and would always let me know the ways in which he thought my mother was failing me. She’d express sadness about the custody decision, but never spite. Even when my father didn’t invite her to my bas mitzvah party, she hugged me tightly and didn’t say a word of complaint.

My mom is the kindest woman I know. She had a very difficult relationship with her own parents, and I only saw them a few times in my life. When my grandfather was sick with Alzheimer’s she would have me call him every weekend. He would often think it was wartime and start attempting Morse code on the phone. My mom would gently take the phone from my hands, tell her father she loves him, and hang up with tears in her eyes. She would usually make sure to tell me a story about her father from when she was little. “Did I ever tell you about the time my dad borrowed a convertible and took me for a ride down the dirt roads in our town in Connecticut?” she’d ask.

When I became frum in high school and began to keep Shabbos, my mom always supported me, even though keeping Shabbos meant her small amount of time with me on the weekends would be cut in half. “If this makes you happy, then it makes me happy, honey. We’ll just have to make our Sundays together even more special,” she said. I think she selflessly meant it.

My mom is the kindest person I know. When she joined the painter’s union at 50 years old and was the only woman there among a bunch of tough, hardened men, she decided to make friends by making extra lunches. My mom is five feet tall and weighs 90 lbs, but she would approach those men at lunchtime and offer them food with her gentle smile. Some of those men became her biggest advocates, offering to lift the heavy scaffolding for her and fighting for her to stay in the union when the chauvinistic forces around her tried to get her dismissed.

When my kids were little, she’d come three times a week to do bath time. I think she could sense how overwhelmed I was, even while always telling me what an amazing mom I am. She would sit and giggle with my kids while reading them books and making bath soap art on the walls. The kids would aways ask, “Is tonight a Nana night?” This was a special time for my mother because she could come to see us as much as she wanted. I hoped it helped her heal from the pain of not being allowed access to my childhood. At this young-mom stage of my life, I couldn’t get enough of her help, and she couldn’t inhale enough of this precious slice of our lives.

My mom is the kindest person I know. She used to give my kids cash for their birthdays. I knew she couldn’t afford that, so I would find ways to sneak the cash back into her purse.

Covid was especially rough for my mom as she lives alone and was cut off from the social contact she needed. She’d knock on people’s doors in her building and offer to do other people’s grocery shopping. She wouldn’t get paid back for the cost of her trips, and though she rarely has enough money herself, she’d often tell me, “Those people must be having a harder time than me right now.”

I regret I didn’t go see her more often during Covid. The neurologist told us later that this was when many people’s early dementia began. It was certainly when Mom’s began.

My mom is the kindest person I know. Last year, when she had knee surgery, she vehemently claimed that she didn’t need me to come with her. Her mind was already at the point where she was having trouble remembering things she’d heard even ten minutes before, but her main concern was still never inconveniencing anyone she loves.

Watching her frail body on the stretcher as she was rolled out from surgery, I cried, thinking about how much this little woman in front of me had gone through in life. I shouldn’t have been surprised when she opened her eyes and said to me, “I don’t think I got a chance to say thank you to the surgeon.”

Giving gifts for birthdays and Chanukah is so important to her that she asks me every weekend if there are any birthdays this upcoming week. She can’t remember whether or not she’s bought a gift, and so Hashem forgive me, I often thank her for gifts she got my child while hoping she won’t have a bout of clarity and remember that she hasn’t actually bought anyone a present of late.

My mom is the kindest person I know. When she told me with a smile that Elon Musk had reached out to her and that they were friends now, my heart broke a little more. She showed me on her phone how “he” had reached out to her through social media. When I tried to explain that this was dangerous and not the real Elon Musk, but a fake account, she looked so hurt. “Why would someone want to fake being someone else? It was so nice to get to talk to him. He told me liked all of my ideas for how tech could help older people. Are you trying to tell me he was lying about everything he said to me?”

I cried as I deleted her social media apps, knowing she’d never understand people’s evil intent.

Watching my mom’s mind slowly slipping away is a gut-wrenching experience. The thought that shames me the most is that I’m not as kind as she. If the roles were reversed, she’d be doing a better job staying patient and giving. I wish she had a daughter kinder than I am.

I’ve started accompanying her to all her medical appointments. At the last one, when she was given a referral for another CT scan, I caught myself being upset about the infringement on my time. This woman would do anything for me. I want to be the kind woman she showed me how to be. Another medical test is another chance for us to spend time together. I should be grateful for these chances, especially while she still remembers who I am.

My mom is the kindest person I know. She gave me everything. At times when I was growing up, I was sad that she wasn’t the kind of mom I thought I wanted or needed. She isn’t the mentor type, or the brainstorming type, or the business woman type, or the trendy type, or the advice-giving type, or the take charge type.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate her never-ending love, and her incessant statements of admiration for me. I always knew she’d support me and love me through anything. I should be so lucky to give my kids such a gift.

My mom is the kindest person I know. As I accompany her through this awful stage of her life, her kindness intensifies. I’ve been so scared reading about her dementia and its accompanying angry outbursts and paranoia. But for now, her heart only grows.

After I brought her to a senior day center, she asked me, “Can I volunteer here? This is a great place, and it looks like some of these people here could use help.” I choked back a sob thinking, Mom, you’re the participant, not the helper here.

Please, Hashem, take care of this wonderful woman who has spent her life being kind to Your children. Please, Hashem, fill me with patience so I can take care of this incredible woman with the dignity she deserves. Please, Hashem, give me some of her kindness so that as I rush through my days, I can also notice those around me who are sad or in need. I want my mother to be proud of me, now and always.

Thank You, Hashem, for giving me the zechus of taking care of my mom, the kindest woman I know.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 880)

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