Tag Archives: care-giving

Sharing Stories, Settling Down, Sorting, Sifting and Slowly Letting Go.

Morocco Street by Perla
Painting of Moroccan street scene by Perla Barchilon, mother of José, Arthur, Lili, Jacques and Maurice, my paternal grandmother. The colors here are not as bright and vibrant as the painting itself.

 

“I’m depressed, Nicole and I have many regrets.”

“Well, Papa, that’s understandable. You are slowly dying and your body is getting weaker every day. This is not easy or pleasant and your mind is completely aware of this slow degradation of your body. Your beloved wife died a few months ago; you have lots of reasons to be sad.  I think you are incredibly courageous to be navigating this time the way you are. I wish there was more I could do to help you feel better. Would talking about your regrets be helpful? I’m here if you want to share.”

And then my father started to tell me about his deepest regrets and how badly he feels and what a failure he was with certain people. He mentioned how he behaved towards his mother. This was his first statement of regret. My father has never said one nice word about his mother in the entire time I’ve been alive. Every story about her is negative and puts her in a bad light. So, for him to say, he felt badly about how he treated her, is pretty monumental. I feel waves of energy and spirits are moving through the space as my father shares. It’s a timeless and powerful moment. I also need to mention that my father regularly shares that I am like his mother, especially around how much food I prepare and eat, but unlike his mother I do not force him to eat anything.

I ask him about what he regrets in terms of his behavior towards his mother, my grandmother Perla. He says he wasn’t empathetic to her and didn’t have empathy towards her situation. I asked him if he’d ever apologized to her and he said he had and that  she had told him: “You never need to apologize to a mother.”

Perla Posing
Perla, age sixteen or seventeen, Morocco right around the time she married my Gran-papa, around the turn of the century.

This is the first remotely loving story my father has ever told me about his mother. I can see her dismissing my father’s apology with this statement in one way and also being very moved by it. My grandmother, Perla Barchilon y Cohen was an amazing woman, but she wasn’t the mother my father wanted or needed. Nevertheless, he has a portrait of her in a place of prominence that my mother did of her, when she came to Paris for my birth over 54 years ago.

We spoke more about his mother and I asked him if Perla had ever been empathetic or sensitive to him, if she had taught him how to be kind and empathetic? He said “No,” and I pointed out that he didn’t have any role models growing up about how to be the way he wishes he had been. I told him I was amazed at his empathy and how he was still growing and working on improving himself. We spoke about how Judy, May her memory be for a Blessing, was the person who finally taught him the empathy he wanted to have. She showed him how to be kinder and to think about the feelings of others more. He agreed with me about this and it made him sad to talk about Judy.  Perhaps we will revisit this mother regret, but I hope that he feels freer to let this one go now.

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Perla Barchilon, age seventeen probably.  At the age of sixteen, she was married to my grandfather Jaimé Cohen (Spanish version of  the Hebrew name Chaim). He was 20. She had five sons and was a wonderful painter in Morocco in the early part of the last century. She lived through World War II in Morocco and her artwork was celebrated and respected for over fifty years. She was a Jewish woman in a Muslim country and she was a painter. I remember her still painting when I was a little girl in Morocco. She was a very old woman at that point in her seventies, which now that I’m 54 doesn’t seem that old to me. She was born around 1898 and died in 1988.

I am in this very complex place of trying to comfort my father in any kind of way that works for him. I’m trying to balance my inclination to impart, share,  and perhaps somehow convince, through my touch and my heart and my presence, the tremendous relationship to Holiness and to Hope that is possible for my father. I don’t want him to be sad, depressed, afraid or certain that his end is an end. He has no belief in any spiritual system at all.

Whereas, I am walking into and out of Olam Ha Bah and the Angelic and Supernal Realms often. I feel these energies surrounding my father and I’m wanting him to feel the presence of the Divine and to know that he will be safe, at peace and not suffering after he dies. This is my need. My father is a devout Atheist. He maintains there is no such thing as a soul, so he doesn’t have one and there won’t be any Heaven for him.

In the Jewish tradition, we have a final confession as part of the dying process. We didn’t borrow this from the Catholics, they probably got the whole idea from us! Our confession is very different though. It is called a Viddui and is said by someone when they are on their deathbed. It is a general request for forgiveness for all wrongdoings in our lives and a listing of those wrongs. It also has a clause/caveat that states, we might not be dying, a miracle could happen and we might recover, but we still want to be clear now. I love the language of this, asking for forgiveness, stating our wrongs and then saying, we might get better, who knows? This might not be a final confession after all.

In addition to the final confession, there are daily, weekly, monthly and yearly cycles of self-scrutiny, correction, confession of wrongs to the person one has wronged, making amends and attending to the patterns that might be causing us to make these errors. We’re all about confession, it just doesn’t happen in a box with a priest and a screen.

I keep looking for opportunities for my papa and I to cross the bridge between my world and his. I don’t need him to change or believe, I just want him not to be in pain or distress, physical or emotional. If there is something I can offer to ease his suffering, than I want to do it. He appreciates my touch, my cooking, my massages and my taking care of his daily and nightly needs. He is grateful for my care and the care of my brother Paul and the caregivers we have working with us.

Since I’ve been living with him in his home in Denver, there have been many moments of storytelling and he has asked me to query him and volunteered to share whatever stories or ideas with me, with my brother, and with others who want to know more. How can I ever know all that he wants to share or even what questions to ask? I think I know my father pretty well and most of his life’s stories have been written down or lived together or shared. I think he is not a mystery to me. I am so wrong about that.

I ask my father about his dreams in the morning. I ask him about his sadness and if he wants to talk about anything, when he volunteers that he is sad.

I ask him what he wants for breakfast and how long I should wait before checking on him when he is in the bathroom. I ask him what number heat setting he wants on the heating pad and I ask him if there is anything I can do to make him more comfortable. His reply is usually, “Make me forty years younger and smile.”

His dream the other day, the one he remembered to tell me, went like this:

“I dreamed I was in the home of a very famous man, you will know who he is, Freud. I was rearranging the furniture in his house.” Another dream had been that he was in NY, and there was a starving, lonely cold child on the street and he was with Eloise (the famous NY storybook character who lives in a hotel). She was talking to someone about how much money should be given to this girl and my father and she agreed that it should be $100,000.00. What’s interesting about this dream is that he didn’t remember the name of Eloise, but he remembered that his niece Coco loved this character and so I suggested we call her and ask her if she remembered the name of the NY storybook character. Just as we reached Coco, Papa, said “Eloise!”

His mental acuity stuns me, and I truly feel at half his capacity. I can’t remember things from my childhood or my children’s childhoods, the way my father remembers his niece’s favorite storybook from over fifty years ago. His memory is a golden mine of treasures and I don’t think my brother and I will ever plumb its depths.

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For now, though, I am grateful for my technology that is allowing me to record his stories when he wants that done. Every tale he tells is a golden offering that will be of value to me and to all of our family.

I hope I have the presence of mind and the loving care and support my father has when I am leaving this world. We all deserve to be with those who love us and where we are comfortable, surrounded by our art and what makes us feel at home; to be safe and to suffer as little as possible.

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Portraits of Perla and my brother Paul Barchilon by my mother Helen Redman, hanging on the wall with paintings by Perla. Also, a Moroccan print of my brother’s in the bottom corner.

 

 

 

 

Having Arrived…

Shabbat Flowers.
Shabbat table and flowers on Paul Barchilon’s  coaster in the home of my father.

It has taken me a few weeks to actually get here. Here being Denver, Colorado in the condominium of my father and his wife Judy, may her memory be for a blessing. I was grieving leaving my life and my husband, my garden, the Redwood tree who is my friend off my deck, my bed, my community and so many other parts of where I live.

But now, Here I am, Hee Nay Nee, הנני

I am fully here and arrived in Denver. Even though I moved here in mid-December, it has taken me a little while to actually get and BE here. I was going through the motions; getting the meals cooked, the laundry done and attending to my father’s needs just barely. I say just barely because my heart wasn’t in it. I’ve been preparing for this time, for years, literally over 15 or more. I’ve known that there would be a brief moment between raising children and my needing to help care for my father, my mother, my beau-père and my mother- in-love. That time has arrived and regardless of preparing for it, the actual transition to it, has been, like all transitions, not so easy.

I felt so bad, not being happy to be here, not being happy to serve. In my piece S.O.S (Surrendered Open Serving)  I wrote about serving the Holy One with Joy. This work is serving the Holy One, while it is also serving my father, my family and myself. Doing it with joy, is the part that I wasn’t able to just swing into. I needed to grieve not being with my husband. He is more than my mate in this life. He’s my life-line and being physically near him and with him nourishes my soul and my cells in ways that are central to who I am and how I do all that I do. He’s the silent, behind the scenes, invisible partner in everything I do.

So, the adjustment has taken a little bit of time. Now, when I take my Shabbat break from my father for the two days I have off, I start to miss him and feel pulled back to him. He and I have formed a new bond, similar to the one that we formed when our roles were reversed and I was the infant with huge physical needs unable to meet them by myself. It’s such an interesting pendulum swing and one that so many folks are fearful of.

I am not afraid of being needy or not in control. I am prepared for it and expect it. I also don’t think it’s so terrible to lose control. Part of why I am less reticent than others has to do with my fundamental Emunah/Trust in the Holy One and in the goodness of folks in my life and in the world in general. I also have less fear than most people about what is on the other side. And I believe it’s our calling, all of us, in smaller and larger ways to care for one another on this planet and also for the planet. Some folks will be care-givers of the earth, or a water-shed or a species of frog. Some folks will stand guard over a forest or a flower or a polar bear. Some of us will care for wounded soldiers or special needs children or adults. Some of us will cultivate awareness in art and music and bring comfort or a wake-up call to others. Whatever ways we find to listen and honor the voice of caring in our lives, it is real and present and of value.

As I spend this truly precious time with my father, he is weak, not-well, tired, sad, frustrated about his bodily functions and process and also very much mentally present. He wants to share stories and talk about hard things in his life. He asked me to record him recounting the few days leading up to and the day of my sister Paula’s death. She died at the age of 21 months old, over 54 years ago now. He wanted to share this video with my mother. The two of them have now talked about this time. This is something they never had done and it has been painful, intense and beautiful all at the same time.

To me, it is a huge tikkun/healing. It’s also been that for my parents. It’s never too late to have healing in a relationship or in a fraught situation. My mother and my father, despite all the territory in their past, have found their way back to a very tender place with each other. A place (my sister’s death) that they are closest to and can share feelings that no one else can. Across the 48 years since they’ve been together, this time and this desire on my father’s part and my mother’s willingness to listen and attend to all of this with caring and compassion has created a bridge. That bridge serves everyone in my family and most especially me.

My sister Paula’s death has colored every facet of my life. She’s been very present for me recently. I’ve been feeling her suffering and confusion at being alone, or what I perceive as those feelings, as my father and mother re-live the specific details of her tragic death. Today, I will go to her grave and sing her some songs. Her grave is a very unique and special one that many folks recognize who live here in Boulder. I will honor her, as I have my whole life, by trying to live my life with more gusto and more aliveness, with a double dose of the blending of my mother and father and all that this shared combination of heritage and story means as it flows through my veins and muscles and heart.

 

 

The front and back views of my sister Paula’s grave marker, which was commissioned by my parents and made by DeWain Valentine. The rocks are traditional Jewish offerings that I bring when I visit to commemorate my presence and as place-holders for my memory being as long as a stone’s for her.

The other night at Shabbat in the basement of Rabbi Marc Soloway of Bonai Shalom, we said the Mourner’s Kaddish for a thirteen year old boy who died last week. Children dying is terrible and not how we want our lives or the lives of those we cherish to unfold. Death is just not something we can ever overcome or get away from. It’s not fair, it’s not easy, it’s not fine or pretty or simple. We do all kinds of things to try to wrap it up that way, but the reality of it is anything but wrapped up neat. In the Jewish tradition, we have space, communal space, at every prayer service, for all those grieving to be supported, to name their beloveds and their pain.

This naming doesn’t fix the wound, but it gives us a container, a shared vessel for our hurt to be in, and it helps us feel less alone in our most tender and broken times.

It takes all my resources to show up for this dying time with my father and with others as well. I have very little energy for conversations or interactions with folks, because all of me has to be present now for these precious moments with my father, my brother, my mother and my family. It takes all of me to hold the space as we walk on the bridge between this life of my father’s here and now and the destination he is moving towards. It takes all of me to stay present for the feelings I have about when he will no longer be in a body here with us to tell stories to, or enjoy an artichoke with, or laugh at something silly or remark on something so intelligently that I feel like a total idiot in comparison. My father’s intellectual capacity far out-shines most folks I’ve met. He is still so sharp in his observations and thoughts. I’ll miss that, I’ll miss it a lot.

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Papa et moi.

So now the river of tears flows, as it can only flow when I have some space and time to be by myself and not be having to attend to his needs or anyone else’s. I’m very grateful for my time off, even though I’m acutely aware that every minute I’m away is one less minute I will have with him………forever.

Being present for what is going on in my life is one of the ways I honor the Holy One and my family and the planet. I cannot know when my life will be taken. I cannot know when my father will leave or my husband or a beloved friend or my children. I pray I won’t have to navigate losing a child, as my parents have, and as so many mothers and fathers in history have had to, but I cannot know.

So, every day I hold my family in my heart, in my prayers and I endeavor to honor them. I do this with my friends and my community as well. Mostly right now though, I’m just right here, tending to my father as he falls further from this realm. I hope to help ease his landing on the other side as best I can. I’m not alone in that. My brother and my children have shown up in various ways, as have some of my father’s nieces, nephews and friends to remind him of how precious he is and how much he is appreciated and loved.

What more can any of us do for those we love?

Papa Painting
“Dad wanted to help! He is 94, and doing hospice at home. My sister and I are taking care of him. He has seen me painting tiles non-stop for my big commission, and today he asked if he could help. Took me a little extra time to clean his work, but he was just barely able to do it. He made three tiles. I told him you never know, someone could dig up his tile in 10,000 years. He liked that!” Paul Barchilon

Pointed, Prickly and Profound Pesach/Passover

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This is where I spent the first night of Pesach up Sugarloaf road in Boulder, Colorado. I had planned to be with my dear friends in Oregon, but life intervened. My 94-year-old father fell and broke his hip and then two days after his hip-replacement surgery had a minor heart-attack. I flew out here to help my brother and family navigate all of this.

My father, never at ease, with care or emotions, was very upset to see me when I first got here. He requested that I not come into his room alone. He said that I was “too emotional” and my presence distressed him. I was actually expecting this, because this is his default around me and emotions. I refrain from all emotional expressions around him and have for years. But, he was so uncomfortable and unhappy already, my presence served as a reminder that things were dire or difficult.

I am the person folks usually want around them when they are sick, 99% of the time. Folks love when I bring food to them, help them navigate tests, hospital staff, doctors, end of life care issues and everything in between. I am regularly consulted, and in the company of folks who are not well in hospital and home situations. It’s something I do from my heart with confidence and skill. The fact that my father denies me the opportunity to give to him, in the ways I am most able to, is one more opportunity for me to grow.

My Mussar/Jewish Ethical practices and teachings ask us to look at whatever is present in our world as our “spiritual homework.” This idea works for me because I am someone who tries to address whatever is difficult as an opportunity. I am not always successful in this, but I do use this concept as a framework for my life.

So, my brother, his partner, my daughter, various other family members and I have been trying to do a very complex dance. There are lots of steps behind the scenes and various curtains opening and closing, in sync hopefully, and lots of improvisation. I have respected my father’s wishes, for the most part. I found that he was open to good soups and foods, which I could make for him and send with my brother. This worked for a little while and then it was “too much fuss” and “too much foods,” even though it was a small box in the hospital patient refrigerator with some cheese, yogurt, olives and soup.

My father asked where I was several times when my brother came to spend time with him and my brother reminded him that he had told me not to come. I spent my pre-Passover time cleaning my brother and my daughter’s homes and kitchens and cooking for them and my father to support all of them, behind the scenes. I drive my brother into Denver frequently, and stay in the waiting area, and try to make it easier for my brother to handle all he is handling. It’s a family affair with one person on center stage looking like he is doing it all, my brother, but there are lots of things going on in the background.

This element of caring for folks, whether they are old, or not, is critical to understand. It is often the case that only one member of a family or friend grouping will be the one the person who is not well feels the most comfortable with. It’s important to not take it personally when you aren’t the person wanted. I know this intellectually, emotionally it’s another story.

So, I have cried, done a phone session with my therapist, gone to multiple services at Bonai Shalom and been on the phone with my husband and sisters and others and processed. I’ve gotten massaged at Siam Sensation, my favorite place in town and gone swimming and taken walks in the woods. I don’t swallow poison or hurt, when I am awake and aware. I take my pain to the Holy One, to my support crew of friends and family and to my sister’s grave as well. I lay it all out and down and work on trusting that my love and care will be of help and that someday it will all make sense or improve.

Heads together Paula Grave
My brother and I at our sister’s grave. It’s a place of healing and calm for me always. See More than One, for more thoughts on my sister and I and grave-side practices.

Everyone is unique in how they navigate illness and stress and difficulty. There is no cookie-cutter form that works every time. Patience and calm and trust are always great tools to have if you can figure out how to have them in a crisis, no small task. Even though my father was reticent initially to my arriving and my involvement, he has warmed up to me and to my help. My presence makes a difference for the other folks in this situation. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing, on the other hand, this is what is.

How this relates to Pesach and Passover is also relevant. We look at all the ways we enslave others and are enslaved at this time of year. We look at all the things that are leaven in our lives, all that puffs us up and that is not necessary. Our pride, our lack of awareness about the suffering of others, our over-consumption, our fear and our lack of faith are all examples of things we need to look at deeply. We always tell the story in the present tense and we are not only reminded once, but repeatedly, over and over and over, that the Exodus is not something that happened once. Our story is something that is currently happening and that is happening for us and for refugees and folks in bondage everywhere right now.

We live the story in this moment.

So, in my now, having to traverse the territory of my pride around my ability to care for folks in need, I can see it as one more form of leaven in my life. Ceding the care-giving to my brother and taking a back-seat, that’s not my normal setting, nor is it easy for me, but I can and am doing it. Letting go of my childhood pain and sense of rejection around my Papa is also a way to liberate myself further from things that I no longer need to be tied up in knots about.

My father loves me, he has never, and will never understand me. Big deal, what’s new? This is the story for so many people. While it is painful, I am not alone, I am not three or twelve. I’m fifty-two years old. I have a plethora of folks who do understand me and don’t reject me. My father is actually not rejecting me, he’s rejecting having to feel things that he doesn’t have the energy or ability to handle. I represent emotions and feelings to him, I hold that space in his mind and in his experience. Just being around me stimulates him in ways that are not comfortable for him. He still thinks I should be a lawyer, which is just beyond laughable.

Soup, I can send him, through another person, that works. Yesterday, I felt a strong call, on the second day of Pesach, about ten days into my visit here, to go see him. So, I called him, he is now at a rehabilitation facility.  I asked him if I could come for a brief visit and bring him some maztoh ball soup that my friend, a former student of his, had made. He said, come visit, but no soup, and only if I was already in Denver. I lied and said I was, but that it would be a few hours before I arrived. I drove in, during rush hour to see him. It took an hour and a half to get there and an hour to get home. When I got to his room he said: “I’m going to make you very happy and let you rub my feet.” This is something I’ve offered before, when visiting with him, but that he’d always refused.

So, I washed and massaged Papa’s feet, which felt good for both of us. While I was there, the Executive Director came in and asked how things were going. My father said “fine,” but then started to complain about the food. He then he raved about the tomato basil soup he’d had at the hospital and said they should hire away the cook at the hospital. This was funny to me, since he’d complained about the food there to my brother. I told the director to just have the kitchen always put some lemon on my father’s tray and that would help him enjoy whatever he was eating.

A little later, dinner was served and the cook came up. My father apologized profusely for complaining to the director and the cook assured my father, that he wanted to provide the best meal possible for him and that it was his job to do so. He asked my father where he was from originally and my father said: “France, we are French, from Morocco originally.” The cook said: “I’m from Palestine, I’m Palestinian.”

I immediately said “Salaam Aleicum,” and he shook my hand and said Aleicum Salaam and smiled. Jews and Muslims share this form of greeting. We say Shalom Aleichem, they say Salaam Aleicum, both of these things mean the same thing, Peace To You, and the response is Alecheim Shalom or Aleicum Salaam, which means To You Peace.

My father then said it was a “bloody ridiculous mess” in Israel and Palestine and that all the bloodshed and arguing was wrong. The cook didn’t say anything more to this. I shook his hand again and thanked him in Arabic, “shukran, shukran.” He smiled and departed. There was lemon on the tray they brought my Papa for dinner. And, of course, he would have preferred the soup my friend had made, but he’d told me not to bring it, so I hadn’t, trés typique, as we say en français.

We attend to the details of Passover more intensely than any other holiday. It is considered of benefit to go longer, go deeper, do more, make things sparkle or have more meaning, discuss it differently, cook more dishes, clean more, and in general go a little crazy in your preparations and expressions for this holiday. So, likewise, with my father in his situation, the details are maddening, complex and continuously shifting and challenging. It requires great attention to detail and flexibility.

I’m blessed to have a family that has consummate skills in this area. So, as we wander in this new wilderness, this place that is wholly different from what we are comfortable and familiar with, we look around us and see we are not alone. We are helping each other along, we are laughing, we are crying and we are falling down and picking each other up. We are finding ways to do what needs doing in the face of complex emotions and situations.

Let me be very clear as well, it’s horrifying to me, when I think about how hard and how much work we are doing for my father, who has health-insurance, who is in clean and calm facilities, who has children who can afford to drive or fly in to help. What is horrifying about this, is that so many folks don’t have this kind of support or care. The vast majority of people in the world, who are suffering all over this world, don’t have the resources or the facilities that my father does. My father is an American but he wasn’t born here. He emigrated here after World War II. He got his college education here in the 1950s and became a French professor at CU Boulder. He worked for over thirty years there and planned intelligently for his retirement. He found his truest love at the age of 75 and has been happily married to her for almost twenty years now.

  1. How can my situation, which is challenging, but not horrific help me to be a better person?
  2. What can I do differently so that the suffering of others is lessened?
  3. Where are there places in my life that I can explore further that will enable me to be freer to give with my whole heart and serve the Divine more fully?
  4. How can I release what constricts and binds me so that I am truly free to show up for exactly what needs showing up for?

These are my four questions for this holiday, not the typical ones, but they are the ones I’m wrestling with. May your forays into this Holy Spring Time, whether you are Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or any other stripe or way of connecting to this Wholly and Holy Amazing world, be full of joy and thoughtful contemplation. May you find your way out of whatever binds you, into full-on service to what needs doing and what is for the good.

You are not alone!

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The altar I made for my father the day I learned about his hip fracture. The wine, in the center, is for us to drink to his health, the photos are of my father and my daughter, my father and his mother, my father and his wife and two of my favorite angel images. The bowl holding the candle is the bottom of a Moroccan couscoussier and one of my brother Paul Barchilon’s ceramic coasters is holding the light.