I’ve been writing about the joys and heartbreaks of dealing with life-cycle events that occur far from the home of the chronically ill person. I’ve tried to give some insight to what an enormous effort it takes for a person who is chronically ill and his family to make such a trip. The trip itself is only a small part of what must be put together for this family. Once they arrive, the mountainous task of existing day-to-day in a strange place without familiar supports, presents problems and threats that are huge. That’s why, once the effort is made to come the distance, being accommodated by those around us is important. Below are the stories of people who ventured out of their safe environment to share joys and sorrows with family and friends and the accommodation, or lack of accommodation, with which they were met.
When Menucha and Yoni’s son got engaged, they knew they wanted to attend every aspect of every celebration around the simcha. Menucha was chronically ill. She required tremendous assistance in her daily routines. Nevertheless, the couple hired an assistant to travel with them, made meticulous travel plans, spent hours in preparation, and were determined to have a wonderful celebration. The bride’s parents had no experience with disability or chronic illness. They did not understand why Menucha and Yoni were upset when they changed the day of the “vort” (engagement party) to the evening of the arrival of their flight instead of the day after. They had difficulty understanding why the couple couldn’t simply come to the “Vort” straight from the plane.
They had no concept of what it would take for Munucha to change clothes or clean up after the flight. They had no idea what was involved in getting accessible transportation on the ground. In addition, what if the flight was late or cancelled? Changing their flight wasn’t possible, as they had already spent hours with the airlines making sure this flight could accommodate them. The future in-laws tried to explain that the new date was just more convenient for them because of a conflict at work. They couldn’t understand why it was such a big deal for Menucha and Yoni to just accept the change of date and come immediately from the airport.
Finding themselves in a similar situation, Perel and Avigdor spent, not days but weeks, making sure Avigdor’s illness would not deter them from flying in to share in their son’s simcha. They too, were attending the vort and hoped to also attend a family gathering sponsored by the in-laws. They were looking forward to meeting the bride’s extended family and to getting to know their new daughter-in-law and her parents a bit better. They were hurt to discover, once they arrived, that the bride’s family had decided to move the date of the family gathering to a few days after they left the city. It seems they found it too difficult to try and find a place that would be wheelchair accessible and accommodate Avigdor’s wheelchair. It was just easier not to have the groom’s parents around.
When Pesach’s mother passed away, he was unable to get to the funeral. One day was not nearly enough time to put together the plane trip needed in order to get him to the city where his mother had lived and where the funeral was to take place. His illness required too much attention to just pick up and leave without making copious plans. He sat shiva at home, by himself, feeling more isolated and depressed than usual. His only solace was that he knew he would be able to make it to the unveiling. He would have time to put everything he needed in place, and he did. He was shocked when, at the unveiling, his sister complained how she had to handle everything around the funeral herself. She felt very resentful that he hadn’t “made the effort” to be there for the funeral as well.
The bride’s parents did not think about the inconvenience and the thousands of miles traveled by the groom’s family for their son’s wedding, or the difficulty they had accommodating the groom’s mother’s chronic illness. The bride’s father kept complaining to them about the inconvenience he went through having to drive 200 miles during his busiest season at work. The date had been picked by the groom’s family in order to accommodate their many needs, which also involved the availability of an orderly to travel with them. They wondered if the father would have liked to switch with them. They knew they would switch with him in a minute. Being able to simply pack a suitcase, get in a car by yourself and travel 200 miles without needing assistance seemed like a wonderful thing to be able to do, even in a busy season.
Often we forget in our day-to-day rush what a gift it is to simply be able to get into a car or plane on our own power – to go where we want, when we want without needing assistance or special accommodation. After hearing these stories, I may never again complain about the size of the bathroom in a plane. I feel blessed, knowing I can simply get out of my seat unaided, and use it whenever I wish. Knowing what the chronically ill go through, just to be part of a simcha, or a tragedy, I think it behooves us to do all we can to make them feel comfortable and included, even if it involves some inconvenience on our parts.