After learning about the important Mitzvah of Kibud Av V’eim, honoring one’s parents, throughout our school years, we all grow up. As we get older and start our own families, our parents grow older too, and this mitzvah changes drastically from the one we learned about in school.
Many adults struggle with this mitzvah, as life’s changes bring along questions in dealing with elderly parents, parents-in-law and stepparents. Rebbetzin Yehudis Samet, best selling author of The Other Side of the Story, set out to clarify these questions, first in lectures all over the world, and now in this groundbreaking book: My Father, My Mother, and Me. The book features over 200 true stories of devotion, challenges, and success in this important commandment. It also features halacha, practical advice, and other inspiration.
We’ve chosen a sample story to share with you. It’s an inspirational tale of how a woman fully devoted 24 hours to her elderly mother, thus saving her endless pain and suffering – not to mention fear.
Excerpted from My Father, My Mother, and Me:
Dr. Glendall’s expression was impassive. “We’ll just have to open it up again and hope it heals correctly this time.” My mother squeezed my hand as he told a nurse, “Get Mrs. Ellis settled in pre-op.”
“But there are no beds, doctor. We’re full right now. Overfull, in fact. There won’t be an opening till,” she flipped through some papers, “tomorrow afternoon, at two-thirty.”
“Fine. It can wait till then.” The doctor turned back to my mother. “We’ll see you tomorrow afternoon, Mrs. Ellis. Arrive an hour early for admission.” As he swung around to leave the room, I slipped my hand out of my mother’s and raced after him.
“Dr. Glendall, isn’t there anything that can be done to avoid surgery?”
He shook his head as he hurried down the hall. “If a scar heals from the outside in, it must be reopened. Right now, toxic pus is seeping into your mother’s body, filling her with infection. It has to be let out.”
“But is there any way to do that without operating?”
We’d arrived at the elevators. He turned to face me. I guess he was evaluating the type of explanation an 18-year-old required. “Once a scar heals, only surgery can open it,” he said and then added, “Maybe if it was soaked in hot water for twenty-four hours it would open — but that’s, of course, not feasible.”
The elevator arrived and he stepped inside. “Surgery is the only option,” he told me as the doors closed. I quickly turned and raced back to the room where my mother sat waiting.
“What happened?” she asked, her face drawn from pain and fear.
“I just wanted to ask him if there was any other option. And, baruch Hashem, there’s hope,” I told her.
Dr. Glendall may have brushed off the soaking option, but I wasn’t going to let my mother go into another surgery without doing everything I could to prevent it. Not after everything she had been through. And definitely not given how much she feared going under the knife.She has good reason for her fears, I mused as we rode back to the small apartment in Queens she’d moved into after my father’s death. The past decade had been one long trauma of surgical errors and surgeries to fix those errors. Each time my mother entered the hospital, she was paralyzed with fear.
When we arrived home, I set to work. “Come lay on your bed, Mommy, where you’ll be comfortable,” I said, helping her into her room. I raced to the kitchen to prepare some boiling water. Then I gathered towels and set myself up at my mother’s side.The afternoon faded into the night, a long, blurry stretch of constant motion.
Soaking the wound was tedious work. I would take each towel from the pot of hot water, squeeze it out, wait till it had cooled a little before laying it carefully on my mother. Then I would place another towel in the pot so it would be ready when I needed it, and turn back to the current compress, running to the kitchen every now and then to heat more water.
With every compress, I davened that Hashem bless my efforts with success. Dip, squeeze, soak…dip, squeeze, soak, run and make food for Mommy…dip, squeeze, soak, boil more water…dip, squeeze, soak, Mommy’s thirsty, bring a drink of water…dip,squeeze, soak…
Fatigue was not long in coming. My back ached from bending over to hold the compresses in position and keep watch on the temperature, the muscles in my arms screamed in protest as I carried yet another pot heavy with hot water, and my eyelids drooped, begging for sleep. But I pushed myself to keep going.
And I didn’t stop, not when the first pastels of dawn appeared across the sky, not when the sounds of honking cars and city bustle flitted in through the window — I couldn’t stop, I wouldn’t stop, I would do everything I could to spare my mother from this dreaded surgery.
And finally, just as afternoon began, the scar opened. I wept as the wound began to drain.
“It worked, Mommy!” I cried. “It opened!”
My mother struggled to sit up, and we embraced, our tears mingling — tears of relief and gratitude that she would not need another operation, topped by my gratitude to the One Above Who helped me give my mother twenty-four hours of non-stop care, commitment, and love.