The unbroken bond: A tribute to my mother
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The unbroken bond: A tribute to my mother

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Above, Hilda Jay with some of her oil paintings and drawings.

Hi, Ma.”

Sometimes, the small, frail 92-year-old woman responds with “Oh, I am so glad you are here” or a “Hi, Bubbela.” Many times I get a blank stare with no recognition of who I am. For many years now, my mother, who has dementia and is in an assisted living facility, has not said my name. When the aides ask, “Who is this?,” she will respond “a woman” or “a relative.”

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From left seated, my aunt Ruth with cousin Ilene, my grandmother Molly, me and my mother, Hilda. Standing, my grandfather Samuel.

It is sad to see what has happened to a woman who did everything to keep her brain functioning normally. She had a head for figures; she could finish The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles; she played both classical and contemporary music on the piano; she painted, beautifully.

On my visits, I still speak to her as if she understands. I tell her what has happened to me during the week or about her grandchildren or great-grandchildren. I tell her what is happening in the world, too. Sometimes she responds with an appropriate remark or emotion that makes me feel that the dementia has disappeared. Seconds later, she will ask again, “So what’s new, Bubbela?” – and I repeat the entire story. When I leave she sometimes says, “I must kiss you” and “I love you.” Those words make my day.

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A page from my grandmother’s handwritten memoirs.

Recently, one of my long-lost cousins from California, started a family tree on a genealogy site, geni.com. I heard about it from cousins in Queens and added information about my own family. The tree has blossomed; I now have more than 400 blood relatives, which is a comfort to an only child whose father died too soon and whose mother has dementia. A rediscovered cousin found a handwritten copy of my maternal grandmother’s memoirs and sent it to me.

In more than 100 pages, she told of her life as a child in Russia and how she came to America and raised four children. She noted my mother’s date and time of birth, her personality, her gift for art and music, her marriage to my father and what the wedding was like, the birth of a daughter (me), and bits and pieces of family life that I never knew or would never have been able to hear from my mother’s lips at this stage of her life.

This has helped me to fill in the blanks about the woman who gave birth to me, raised me, loved me, and was always there for me and my family.

On holidays, I always bring flowers, plants, cuddly stuffed animals, or balloons and greeting cards that play music. Although she smiles, she usually has no idea what the occasion is. But that won’t stop me from doing the same this week and saying, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, I love you.”

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