During the course of an average week my work is very hectic but quiet. Due to my wife’s illness I am the major care-giver for eleven hours of the day until my loving daughter returns from her office in the evening to relieve me.
The day begins early with three medications, followed by a light breakfast. Then my wife is helped to get back into bed. She is able to sleep for most of the day except for when she requires help to get out of bed and to be helped to walk into the bathroom or kitchen. I prepare her lunch and we eat at about two o’clock. More correctly, I eat and she only nibbles. There is no real appetite and everything tastes the same to her.
While she sleeps I wash the laundry, do some grocery shopping, and begin cooking the evening meal. We sit at the table together in the dining room, the three of us, and we talk about the news of the day and our individual thoughts on political situations, confrontations, and hopes for a better future.
My wife is very conversant and clear. Occasionally she asks a question repeatedly. “Did you give me my medicine”? or “What time is shabbat candle-lighting”?
At the last count, she told me 31 times in a day that she loves me and thanks me for taking such good care of her. Although I remind her that 31 times is excessive her reply is “But I have the need to tell you. Can you hold my hand? I feel so lonely.”
I too feel lonely and empty and very tired. But my aches and pains are minimal in comparison to Rahel’s. Our daughter is a Godsend, helping in every possible way: bathing my wife, cooking Shabbat meals, cleaning the apartment, vacuuming the rugs, reading to my wife and sleeping next to her through the night. We have exchanged bedrooms because she feels the need to be very close to her mother during the night and she is “on call” for all of her Ima’s needs.
We seldom get phone calls during weekdays. Our friends understand and do not wish to disturb us. Our three children are the main callers, sometimes two or three times a day. “Did Ima eat? What did she eat? How much did she eat? Did she drink enough fluids? Remind her that she must drink six to eight glasses a day. Have you given her all the medications?”
My parents would have remarked “a sach nachas fun kinder”… so much pleasure from children. And so it is.
Suddenly it’s Friday, erev Shabbat. And the telephone begins to ring, one call following another. It is Michah and Leah from Nes Tziona, or Elisheva from Rishon Lezion, or my beloved cousins Binyamin and Shula from Ramat HaSharon, or our dear friend Simcha Blumner in New York.
The questions are always the same: “How is Rahel? Is there any improvement? What do the doctors tell you? How are you feeling? Are you taking care of yourself? You need to keep up your strength. Is there anything we can do to help you?” and dozens of good wishes for a refuah shelemah and a shabbat shalom u’mevorach…a Sabbath of peace and of blessing.
It is difficult for me to explain how much those telephone calls mean to me, my wife and family. They revive our spirits when we are down-fallen. Those calls re-enforce for me the Talmudic adage, “o chevruta o mituta”…. Give me friendship or give me death, because a life without true and caring friends is not a life. It is emptiness. When the telephone rings on Friday, we feel truly blessed.