| LifeTakes |

This Night 

                 Tonight is different. Because my father, at 77 years, is under the spell of dementia

Why is this night different from all other nights?

Tonight is different. I’m here with my children, my sister’s here with her family, and we’re all sitting around the ornate mahogany dining room table we’ve had for years. The table is set with my mother’s best china and elegant stem dishes, my father resplendent in his white kittel, his smile as wide as ever. But tonight is different. Because my father, at 77 years, is under the spell of dementia.

He’s a special man, my father. Born in Europe, he immigrated to America and attended Rav Moshe Feinstein’s yeshivah, where he earned semichah. He went on to marry my mother, enter the diamond trade, and raise his daughters with the warmth and affection he would shower on anyone he met. When he smiled, which was always, the world smiled with him. He never wasted a second. Whenever I visited him; he was either learning or saying Tehillim in his gorgeous seforim room.

But then it started. My father started to forget things. First, it was small, unimportant details — where he’d put the keys, when the appointment was. Things that could happen to anyone. But then he got lost on his way to shul. Didn’t recognize a neighbor he’d known for years. My mother took him to the doctor, who diagnosed this harsh illness. We were devastated.

The disease progressed, eventually robbing him of his ability to converse. I’d communicate with him by holding his hand and asking him whether I could get him a drink or his medicine. When he’d squeeze my hand in response, I knew that meant yes.

But now we were at the Seder. At every other Seder I could remember, my father was on a high from the moment he came home from shul, and he passed this exuberance on to me and my sister, regaling us with stories of Hashem’s miracles until the wee hours of the morning. He’d expound on the Four Sons, he’d illuminate the Makkos, bringing each one to life with rich detail and a life lesson. And he’d sing Hallel aloud, his magnificent voice filling the room as he lingered lovingly over the words. This year, I watch my father struggle to remain aware of what is going on around him, and my heart breaks.

Then somehow, on this holy night, something changes. My father begins to sing beautiful songs of Geulah, and as he sings, his entire appearance changes; it seems that he is in a different world, one devoid of the pain and sadness that make up his current reality. His rich voice penetrates my heart and soul. I don’t want him to stop. It feels like old times, like previous Sedorim, or Friday nights when my father would sing “Me’ein Olam Haba” for hours. My father’s physician told us that people with dementia gain immensely from singing and from listening to their own voice; it makes the brain more responsive. But I know that something deeper is going on.

We reach the climax of the Seder, and as we sing “Chasal Siddur Pesach” together, my father grabs my hand and my sister’s hand. My father closes his eyes, and we lift our voices together. And dance.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

During every Seder I’ve had with my father, he spent the night teaching us about the miracles Hashem did for us throughout our history. Tonight, he is the miracle.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 890)

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