Dealing With a Family Member’s Illness

Q: Unfortunately, my mother has not been well in recent months. She now lives in a nursing facility, as she has dementia and can no longer be maintained at home.

It is difficult to know to what extent my brother and I need to interrupt our daily schedules to intervene when a minor medical crisis arises. I think the facility is generally responsible, but I need to know that I’m doing the best for my mother. I live much closer to her than does my brother, so the onus falls on me.

I have a 10-year-old son living at home; our older children are all out of the house — in yeshivah or married. I also work full time. My schedule has become very erratic as I try to balance all these obligations.

I know there is no magic formula in terms of time management, but I don’t want to feel guilty in the future. I don’t want to look back and feel that I abandoned my mother or neglected my son.

As he is the only child living at home, it’s as if he truly is an “only child.” I don’t want him to spend hours on electronics, and it’s difficult to find babysitters to stay with him so frequently. Even when I am at home, I sometimes have to be on the phone for long periods of time, speaking to various medical personnel about my mother’s condition. I’m sure that my son often feels lonely.

My husband works late hours, so I can’t realistically rely on him to be available any more than he already is.

A: As you accurately state, there is no magic formula for balancing time between an elderly parent and a 10-year-old child. Each adult child/parent has different demands on his or her life. The term “sandwich generation” refers to this phenomenon — a parent/child’s need to respond to the needs of both elderly parents and dependent children. It would be helpful to speak to daas Torah to clarify your particular individual situation, the parameters of kibbud av va’eim and the obligations of this mitzvah in your life.

Not every person has the financial and emotional ability to build a back room for a parent or hire private aides. Nor can everyone leave their child for hours at a time when immediate involvement with the elderly parent may not be the necessary response. Not every small medical need necessitates a visit to the facility.

Unfortunately, feelings of guilt cannot be avoided when dealing with ailing relatives. This is why people at levayos ask the niftar to forgive them if they wronged him or her in any way — if they didn’t visit them enough, etc. People make conscious decisions about when to make hospital visits and how long to stay, as well has how often to take a break and go out for coffee with a friend. One needs to daven for siyatta diShmaya to make the correct time-management decisions.

The obligation to be an available parent is a great one. However, there are ways you can be more “present” even when you are unable to be physically there. You can focus on your son in the car going to work, and later write down things you want to ask him about. Buy his favorite snacks especially for him, write him warm notes and put them in his knapsack …. Asking specific questions about his life, school days and friends reflects your presence in a very personal way.

Hatzlachah in this most sensitive issue!