Last month we discussed how Rabbi Abraham Joseph Rice came to America in 1840 and became the rav of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (Congregation Nidchei Yisroel). Rav Rice was the first ordained Orthodox rabbi to settle in North America.
Rosh Chodesh Kislev marks the 10th yahrzeit of my father, Chaim ben Aaron-Yosef Hakohen. Lately, whenever I think of him, the image that pops into my mind is of him sitting at the kitchen table, eating a bowl of "grishek." I think we would call it porridge - although that term seems to be outdated these days.
Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don't realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.
Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.
I have been to many singles get-togethers over the years, and have noticed an unfortunate tendency by both men and women to give members of the opposite gender a quick glance over. Each is then given the label of being a "loser," "winner" (one worth making the effort to meet), and those who are "OK, but not really my type; so why waste my time and energy?"
Dear Ann, I've read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I'd like to give you another perspective.
Dear Ann, Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.
The first Jews arrived in North America in 1654. What is not so well known is that the first qualified rabbi to settle here, Rabbi Abraham Rice, did not arrive until 1840. One might refer to the first 186 years of American Jewish history as the "Reverend and Cantorial Age," since such men, as well as some laymen who possessed better than average Jewish educations, served as the leaders of the various Jewish communities during that period.
I know that just the title of this article is going to cause an uproar in some circles, and I know that some people might be aghast at how I can even ask that question. To some it is obviously halachically unacceptable to postpone starting a family. After all, the Jewish people are exhorted to pru urevu - to be fruitful and multiply. So, let me say at the onset, this is something every engaged couple should discuss with their rav. Getting a heter - even for a few months- just might be a lifesaver.
Very often when we can't face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.
Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.
A few years ago I wrote in this column that at the bris of my oldest son - held in a shul whose members were for the most part elderly - a wizened old man approached me, peered into my face and muttered in a raspy voice with a Yiddish accent, "May your children sit shiva for you." I was too stunned to say anything to him and just shook my head as he walked away. I thought, "nebach, he must be demented."
Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.
Many well spouses have written to say that their partners' behaviors has changed drastically, making life very difficult for the entire family. "What in my spouse's behavior is choice and what is a result of the illness and beyond my partner's control?" It is a question that tortures many spouses of the chronically ill.
In the past, when I would interview members of well-spouse support groups the topic of suicide was one that was never discussed. However, I always felt it was in the air, just hovering above the group and something very often hinted at in our discussions. Talk of self-neglect, of deliberately doing things detrimental to one's health and avoiding things that were healthy, would come up repeatedly.
In Savannah, Georgia, there is a memorial to the American Revolution called Battlefield Memorial Park. One of the markers there is for Colonel Mordecai Sheftall.
Last week I wrote about how, through keeping a gratitude journal, we can program ourselves to experience more happiness in our lives. However, just as we can program ourselves to be happier, we can be programmed to be miserable and think less of ourselves. This can happen when someone we trust and respect tells us we cannot accomplish what we have set out to do. When our mentors or role models tell us that we do not have the intelligence or creativity to succeed, we begin to see ourselves as inferior. We begin to think less of ourselves, surround ourselves with a sense of failure and accomplish less because we feel incapable. After all, people rise to the height of their own expectations.
In my previous column, I wrote that helping to foster a positive self-image in one's children is the greatest gift parents can give them. Similarly, self-like (not to be confused with narcissistic self-worship) is a key component in having a successful life.
You're cooking or cleaning and the radio is on in the background to keep you company. You really are not listening and have no idea what's being said, but suddenly "Israel" is mentioned and you rush over, turn up the volume and listen. How does that happen? What made you hear that word? What made you pay attention, while you had ignored the thousands of other words that might have been said in the minutes before? More importantly, how can we get that to work for us and make us happier?
For the last several weeks I have been sharing with you the perspectives of a doctor whose point of view made me revisit the reality of the caregiver's role. I want to thank this doctor for his candor and perspective. I believe what he wrote will help us all be more efficient in our care giving as we become more aware of the perspective and boundaries from his side of the stethoscope.