The phenomenon isn’t a new thing: an elderly person retires, and that’s when he starts to deteriorate. His health declines; he becomes withdrawn; his energy seems to wane… As much as waking up early and running to your job each day can be stressful and exhausting, it’s no secret that the sense of purpose and accomplishment that hard work perpetrates is what helps keep many people young and energetic.
But it’s not always the person who retires himself. So often it’s the employer or company who wants young blood, which ultimately results in the old zeidy finding himself summarily fired from the position he’d held for decades…
That’s what made me so overawed when I read the story “Bubby at Work,” in C. Rosenberg’s newest book, Highways and Byways. This is a book of true short stories, so I knew that the account that I’d read really DID occur.
Yaakov was an administrator of a busy institution, whose elderly mother worked for him. As his mother entered her eighties, she developed dementia and began to make many mistakes at work, but Yaakov nevertheless kept her at her job, no matter what those mistakes cost him. And this setup continued for years. Yes, it entailed endless damage control on Yaakov’s part, but his sense of kibbud eim would not allow him to have it any other way.
In Yaakov’s own words (excerpted from the book):
I cannot, and will not, hire someone to take over Ma’s duties. That will be a slap in her face. However delicately it is done, Ma will know that someone is stepping on her toes. Even I, who have taken to checking in on Ma’s work, run circles to make sure that she doesn’t catch on that I am looking over her shoulder. When she is at her desk, I go to the kitchen; when she is in the kitchen, I speak with vendors.
My workload has doubled—perhaps even tripled. I have my own work, Ma’s work, and damage control in areas where Ma’s dementia messes up… But there is no way to convince Ma to retire; she refuses to take even one day off.
So faithfully, I continue bringing Ma into work every day. Day in, day out. So that she can continue doing what she loves most—feeling useful.
Reading this story, all I could think was—Wow! What a kiddush Hashem. What a paradigm of how to show proper respect to one’s parents.
And then I turned the page and read the next story—“Stranded.” This one was about a chassan and kallah who couldn’t make it to their out-of-town Shabbos sheva brachos in time due to terrible traffic on the highway, and had to stop in a random city for Shabbos. The family they stayed at turned out a magnificent Shabbos sheva brachos for them, even on such short notice. The chassan and kallah were truly made to feel like the celebrities they were, even without having their parents, families, and friends in attendance there.
Another mi k’amcha Yisrael story!
The more stories I read in Highways and Byways, the more inspired I became. Again, because these are all true stories, some of them thought-provoking, some of them incredibly uplifting; but all of them good, high-quality reading.
If you’re looking for a good book to read during these long, lazy summer days, Highways and Byways is an excellent choice!
Click here to purchase online.