Parshat Vayechi: Love and Memory Loss
וַיַּ֥רְא יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יוֹסֵ֑ף וַיֹּ֖אמֶר מִי־אֵֽלֶּה׃
Noticing Joseph’s sons, Israel asked, “Who are these?
I know I am not alone in experiencing an elderly friend or relative lose their memory. My grandma, of blessed memory, for the most part knew who I was until she passed; but, there were phone calls or visits where she would need a little reminder.
Experiencing this with a loved one is not new. The verse above may in fact be the first recorded account of dementia. Despite Jacob only a few verses prior accurately identifying his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe, a sudden change comes over him. He no longer recognizes his grandsons, and asks who they are. Joseph gently reminds his father that these are his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe. Upon hearing the reminder, Jacob embraces and kisses them.
There are two important lessons to take away from this. The first is the gentle, non-critical way Joseph reminds Jacob who his grandsons are. Despite the apparent fading of his memory, Jacob is still spoken to with honor and dignity. We should be so honorable to those who suffer from memory loss. The second lesson is the kiss and embrace Jacob gives to his grandsons after being reminded who they are. Though their identities momentarily allude Jacob, once he realizes who they are, all the love is there. With those close to us who have memory loss, we too take comfort in knowing that the affection felt for the ones they love still remains, perhaps buried deeply in their heart, though ever present.
I can still hear the voice of my grandmother calling out, “Who? Oh, Sammy! Of course!” It sometimes took her a second to remember who I was. It took less time to remember how much she loved me.