This evening my friend shared a story with me about a couple she knows.
The couple is in their 80s and both the husband and wife are undergoing the loss of their memory.
This couple has been married for more than sixty years and they have three adult children.
One son and one daughter, who each have families of their own, have been committed to caring for their aging parents in the home in which they had all spent their life together as the children were being raised.
In an effort to preserve the routine and normalcy of family life, and in order to avoid needing to put the parents into a long-term care home, the adult son and daughter have developed a ritual of care.
Every single day, for the past six years, the daughter arrives to the home at 11:00 a.m. to serve her parents lunch.
And every single day, for the same six years, the son has arrived at 5:00 p.m. to serve dinner to his parents and then to open the door to the personal support workers who then take over in assisting with the parents’ care into the evening.
Because the elderly parents have severe memory loss, they are actually unaware that they are requiring the support of their children in this way.
My friend explained to me that this couple thinks themselves perfectly capable of managing on their own.
They think that they are living in the same independent way in which they have always lived.
Cleaning, folding laundry, doing dishes… the elderly couple imagine that they are doing it all when, in fact, it is their adult children who are faithfully attending to all of the household chores.
This story reminded me of the Jewish holy society that prepares the bodies of the deceased for ritual burial insofar as that task is distinctly lauded as an act of kindness that cannot be repaid.
What strikes me is that, when it comes to aging persons who are losing their memory, there are plenty of other opportunities to do kindness that cannot be returned or acknowledged.
We see there is something purifying of motives and rectifying of intention in doing deeds that cannot be repaid.