I called my 94-year-old father in Ohio on July 9. I told him how much I loved him, that he was the most wonderful father ever, that I would miss him, and that it was OK for him to let go.
He sleeps while I sit by his side. Every so often, Dad wakes up, and looks with some confusion around his small room, at the hospital bed, the TV and the whiteboard where someone has printed in large letters: “Today is WEDNESDAY, Aug. 3, 2011. Your daughter Ellie is coming this morning.”
When my friend and I couldn’t get a table at Junior’s, we sat at the counter. Of course sitting at the counter means having lunch with the stranger next to you.
"If my mother was here, she'd probably be saying, 'Dayenu, enough already,'" said Dr. Eugene Gettelman, who turned 100 in June. "She'd think I was meshugge for having a fourth bar mitzvah."
If you are offended either by the idea of cremation or humor about the dead, you may want to stop reading. It's OK.
For the past six years, my mother's often challenging journey and our evolving relationship have inspired much of the writing in my column. Although she's no longer here in my life, she's definitely still alive in my thoughts and memories.
John F. Kennedy once said, "When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity."
Life is full of change -- in fact, one of the only things we can predict and count on in life is that things won't stay the same. For many of us, this is exemplified in our work. Indeed, statistics suggest that most adults will experience five to 12 careers or job changes in a lifetime.
"I always say it is lingerie and meditation that have kept me young," says Michael Attie, a 62-year-old author, spiritual seeker and former owner of Playmates of Hollywood -- the world's largest lingerie store.
Once known as "The Lingerie Monk," Attie managed to combine his passion for spirituality with 13 years of selling sexy lingerie on Hollywood Boulevard.
I first met Attie when I recorded his mother's family history, and she told the story of her son inheriting Playmates of Hollywood. Her husband owned the store until 1982, when, faced with declining health, he called his son, who was meditating in the woods of Northern California, and asked him to come home to run the lingerie store.
Michael Attie made the most of it.
One thing that pleases Harmatz about being the grand marshal is riding in a convertible. In fact, last year when it rained on the parade, someone suggested they put up the top, but Harmatz wanted it left down.
Within the first moments of the comedy/drama "Sunset Park," I wanted to get to know Sheila Oaks, who plays widowed mother.
Moving from a familiar home and letting go of things owned for years can feel like an additional loss. It's not just the loss of the objects that has an impact; it's the connection with the past that these objects symbolize.
Couples who have created a partnership and life together consistently talk of the effort involved. Yes, some relationships seem easier than others, but all say it takes time, energy and a true willingness to face whatever comes along on their journey together.
Many people with aging parents don't want to face their eventual death, said Rachelle Elias, a licensed marriage and family therapist and grief specialist in Santa Monica. "We believe that, since they've been here all of my life, they're a fixture. They'll always be here.
"Also, the small child part of us sees our parents as a buffer between us and anything bad that might happen. They're sort of a place of refuge, even if it's just in our mind."
Stella Goren is only about 4-foot-10, but she packs a strong punch.
It all started when she was turning 79, and her husband asked what she wanted for her birthday.
"I'd like to work out at a gym with a personal trainer," Goren told him.
In spite of thinking she was meshugge and assuming this wouldn't last, her husband gave his wife of 45 years what she wanted.
"I was very happy," Sam Goren recalled. "I didn't have to go out and buy her a present."
It turned out to be the perfect gift. Goren has been working out at the In Training Fitness Center in Hollywood, and loving it, for the past five years.
"What I wanted was music that touches people's souls and hearts in many different ways in their time of need," Len Lawrence said.
My mother has become a serene and content old woman.
The changes, probably due to both her dementia and medications, have created an unexpected-and quite wonderful -- new chapter in our relationship.
Passover is a time for families to gather, to enjoy each other's company and to recall the story of our shared ancient history.
It is also the perfect time to preserve your family's greatest treasure: the memories and stories of your own family elders.
Irvin Kipper may be 88 years old, but he still loves wooden blocks and Tinker Toys.
In fact for 60 years, "Kip"
has spent his days thinking almost exclusively about dolls and trains and stuffed bears, because he owns Kip's Toyland in the original Farmers Market.
Kipper just can't stay away from his store.
"The few times when I haven't gone to work, I feel like I'm kind of lost," he said. "I might do a few things around the house, but I think, 'What am I doing here? I should be over there working.'"
And work he does, Monday through Saturday, still making sure that his customers find that special toy for their children or grandchildren.
Imagine this situation: You've arrived at LAX after hours of sitting in an airplane from Italy. You've waited in line to get through customs, lugged your suitcases from the baggage claim and you finally emerge to locate your relatives. But they're nowhere to be found, and you don't speak English. What do you do?
My mother and father are both in diapers. I wasn't at all prepared for this possibility. Dealing with the visual and olfactory aspect of my son's end products when he was a baby was an expected part of being a mom, but it's a completely different matter when it's my parents wearing the Pampers.
I reminded Mom of her move to Los Angeles three years ago, and her life at a San Fernando Valley board and care.
She sighed and said, "Ellie, I'm losing my marbles."
On April 19, 12 German teenagers left Heidelberg, flew west for about 6,000 miles, disembarked at LAX, and entered the lives and homes of 12 Jewish American teenagers. None of the 24 teens knew quite what to expect.
During their two-week stay in homes of Kol Tikvah congregants, the German students visited local high schools, attended Shabbat services, took part in a Yom HaShoah program, tried a range of new foods and looked everywhere for Tom Cruise.
Sherrie has cerebral palsy, which causes her hands to tremble. So when she was hired to work as an artist for L.A. GOAL in Culver City, she was concerned.
In my family, death and funerals seem to inspire joking. Maybe it's discomfort, but it also seems to be a lack of concern and heaviness about the whole thing. No one in my family does much visiting of graves, and burials are apparently not deemed necessary.
Leona Goldring is 93. She not only attends monthly Anti-Defamation League (ADL) meetings, as well as planning sessions for their fundraising events, but she also is still active in the Women's Fundraising Division of United Jewish Fund (UJF). She was its chairperson about 40 years ago, and she still attends regular strategy meetings for former chairs.
When I last wrote this column for The Jewish Journal several months ago, I had no idea that my mother would soon be living a short bike ride away. Or that her relocation to Los Angeles would take over my life. But transitions, while challenging and stressful, thankfully don't usually last forever, and I'm glad to say that Mom is finally settled in, and I'm returning to my status as a fully functioning human being.
"I have good news! My cancer is in remission." I've called Elsie Schwartz to talk about the High Holy Days, but the news about her illness is an unexpected surprise and a huge relief. At 89, Elsie has taught me a great deal about life and about choosing to face death by living fully and fully loving.
Seniors are fast becoming the largest segment of our population.
"I wanted to turn the Shabbat service on its head," Rabbi Toba August says of Lev Eisha, A Creative Prayer Service for Women, held the first Shabbat of each month at Adat Shalom.
When I'm 79, I want to be Mollie Pier.
I've been thinking about sex.
Now that I'm over 50, I'm enjoying sex more than I did in my youth. Will the fun last, I wonder?
"Adult children are the ones who are going to make the heroic efforts and attempts to provide daily care or monitoring, if that's necessary," said Merril Silverstein, Ph.D., associate professor of gerontology and sociology, at USC Andrus Gerontology Center. Many seniors are retiring to warmer spots, but subsequently moving back to be near children. "The family is really the safety net for older adults."