Sunset // Mrs. Green has dementia, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from her

By Sara Weiss

I don’t know if it’s the quaintness of the heavy oak door or the brass knocker that puts me in a contemplative mood, but as I raise my hand to knock, I suddenly feel a wave of apprehension. This is interesting, considering that I’ve visited many old women since becoming a volunteer for Ateres Zekeinim and I’ve never felt nervous before.
Perhaps it’s because Mrs. Green has Alzheimer’s—something I haven’t encountered in many years—that I shiver, suddenly remembering Malky’s bubby.

Malky was my best friend from kindergarten up until the eighth grade, and I was a frequent visitor at her house. When her grandmother came to live with them when we were both ten years old, it didn’t take long for me to adopt her as my pseudo-bubby. She was gentle and fun and wise, and was one of the best things about playing in Malky’s house.

Until she wasn’t anymore. At first, the changes were subtle. Every time I came over, she’d ask me what my name was and why I was there, as if she’d never seen me before. She would also ask Malky’s mother over and over again why she always forgot to buy her favorite brand of applesauce. Each time she was told that the company had gone out of business and encouraged to please try the new brand (it tasted just as good), but she would grumble as if she’d never heard it before.

But as time went on, and more and more of her sunny personality was swallowed up by the invading monster, I began to keep away. Although it hurt to see Malky’s face fall when I turned down her invitations, seeing her bubby was too painful—and scary—for me.
Today, however, standing in front of Mrs. Green’s door, I tell myself that at 29 I’m a big enough girl to handle this. I knock again, and hear a thin voice calling, “Come in!” Shifting my baby to my other hip, I turn the handle, take my toddler’s hand in mine and elbow the door open.

Mrs. Green is small and smiley and she ushers us in, telling us to make ourselves comfortable on her plastic-covered gold brocade sofa. I don’t know about the comfortable part, but I’m grateful for the plastic; at least I won’t have to worry about getting it dirty.
I introduce myself and my children and she takes out some ancient toys and we talk: about the weather, where we’re from, and of course, Jewish geography. “My husband is chavrusos with your granddaughter’s husband,” I tell her.

“My granddaughter’s husband?” she asks in confusion.

“Esther Malky Bergman, from Cleveland. She’s your granddaughter, isn’t she?”

Her eyes light up. “Yes, she’s my daughter Suri’s daughter.”

“So her husband—”

“Her husband? I didn’t know she was married!”

Yes, Mrs. Green, you did know. I heard that you spent last Shabbos with her, her husband and their three children.

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