This is What Fulfilling a Mitzvah Looks Like

September 2, 2014

EBook Review: “>Congregation Kol Ami.  Debra had just moved Bo, a recent widower, to Los Angeles to live with her.  We all must have really liked one another a lot, because after two weeks on the bus, we were better friends than we had been when the trip began.  Debra was vivacious and funny, and Boris was a gentle, happy travel companion.  We only found out later that they had lost most of several nights’ sleep, because Bo’s legs had become inflamed from his dip in the Dead Sea, and Debra, she of the black leather and the Kaddish tattooed across her collarbone, had been tending to him, intelligently and tenderly, soaking, soothing and bandaging.   When we got back to Los Angeles, Debra became a leader in the congregation for a long time, and Bo became a reliable volunteer who continues to attend services.

I knew that Assisted Loving would be entertaining and honest, because its author is. But this little memoir (drawn from years of blog entries in real time) is more than a fun read.  It is laden with insights, and it provides an example of kebud av (honoring one’s father) in action.  This is what fulfilling a mitzvah looks like.

Here is no sentimental journey.  As often as not, Debra Miller’s caustic wit is displayed at her own expense.  And she lets the reader who might be considering a similar passage know just what she is in for.  She writes, “Perhaps it’s the reason I never had children or why men have wives; taking care of someone else is HARD. Still, it’s best to find humor in some corner or insanity will ensue.”

Thus we get to share the experience of a grown woman trying to watch the L Word with her father in the room…and also a list of tips for getting through the inevitable trips to the emergency room (hint: bring snacks and layers and, for heaven’s sake, don’t forget your phone charger!).  We are reminded of how important it is to have the hard talks with an aging parent about what they want to happen as they slide downhill—before they are no longer capable to understand the questions.  We are told how to use an old cell phone to trick out a “daddy cam” to make sure that diets are observed and that legs are elevated so blood does not clot.  You lean to “elder-proof” a residence (not so different from what they had to do with you before the roles were reversed).

And we are reminded that how we perceive things really does have a great deal to do with how we get through them:  “Whilst I joke frequently and darkly, when Dad makes the move from this corporeal existence, I know I will have made the last part of his life on this planet as comfortable and hopefully as fun as possible. And as reluctant as I am to admit it, it’s been fun for me too. Isn’t that the best we can ask for in life?”

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