I’m writing this on a plane en route to Winnipeg to visit my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Each of my many visits ‘home’ prompts in me a whole range of conflicting feelings: I want to see my mother now, before the disease worsens, and I want to stay away because its ravages are so painful to observe (and must be so much more painful to experience). I want to be with her, to monitor the quality of her treatment in Winnipeg’s only Jewish care home, and yet I dread every separation from my own children, especially from Yael, who at seven feels my absence the most.
When my mother’s disease was first diagnosed, about 18 months ago, I remembered the words of a friend when I offered condolences after her mother died of Alzheimer’s. “I mourned my mother long ago,” she told me.
Why do I write about my mother in this column now? In part because of my friend’s words and my own “premature” grief at losing my mother — as I’d known her, with all that she’d taught me and with all the complex web of feelings I’d had for her — even while she is still alive. When I first knew that her memory loss and her erratic behavior signaled just the beginnings of deterioration, I yearned for a support group of women, a “premature” mourner’s min yan. My husband, our family, my closest friends helped comfort me on an “as needed” basis, and since the structured women’s groups I’d been part of in other times weren’t with me still, I let the urgent need pass. Still, I felt the ache to be supported in a formal or ritualized way, somehow.
I tell this now by way of introduction to the experiences of two women you’ll meet in this issue: Vicki Hollander and Diane Solomon. Both suffered loss, and each found a way to ritualize the pain and its healing, and to route themselves through to the other side via rituals they created. I wish I had been able to do the same; I’ve learned from them, and I suggest that you will, too.
For now, perhaps what I need in the way of ritual is one that acknowledges ambivalence: when I’m preoccupied with my family’s gravitational pulls I worry that I’m neglecting LILITH, with it’s marvelous progress this year and its increasing need for more financial support. And when I’m spending more and more (unreimbursed) hours, in the LILITH office trying to raise the money LILITH needs — from individuals, foundations, corporations, anybody — I worry that I’m not giving more attention to the females who are 40 years on each side of me, and who need me too.
Well, I hope you enjoy the contents of this issue, and that the summer’s sun warms us all.