Mikveh Can Support Us

Healing, National Network

by Pamela Rosenblum

I experienced my first mikveh immersion 25 years ago when I became a member of the Jewish People. It felt profound and transformational. It was many years before I had the opportunity to immerse again when, prior to the high holidays, my Rabbi introduced a small group of women to ImmerseNYC, a member organization of Rising Tide Network. I was amazed and delighted to find the experience once again profoundly meaningful.

Since then I have immersed with a guide from ImmerseNYC for important moments in my life: birthdays, difficult challenges, retirement, or just needing a moment to step out of the rushing flow of contemporary life and pause and be reminded by the ancient ritual of the sacred Presence in every moment. However, I could never have anticipated how important this ritual would be in supporting me through the most difficult life transition I had ever encountered.

Seven years ago, my husband was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s disease. This devastating form of dementia (the second most common after Alzheimer’s) involves not only memory difficulties, but behavioral changes, hallucinations, delusions, and Parkinsonian symptoms. I cared for my husband for six years in his decline, even safely through the COVID shut down.

But there came a time when I could no longer physically care for him, even with a home health aide. I made the difficult decision to move him into a nursing facility.

This is not a decision anyone ever wants to have to make, and many people often tell themselves they would never do it. But for me, things had gotten beyond some theoretical promise to myself and I was confronted with the truth. I could no longer take good care of him in our home, and my own physical and psychological health was deteriorating as a result of the years of stress.

So we made the move. For years, as dementia stole my husband from himself and me, I had been suffering from “ambiguous loss”; the experience of loss and grief associated with unresolved situations. (See Ambiguous Loss by Pauline Boss, PhD.). But nothing could have prepared me for how emotionally difficult it was to move my beloved husband into a nursing home. He was never coming home. I would only be a visitor now. It is difficult to put into words how painful this was. I was torn apart by guilt and grief while at the same time knew I had made the right choice for his care.

One of the hallmarks of ambiguous loss is the lack of any cultural acknowledgement. In most life transitions we have meaningful rituals in which the community acknowledges the event and provides a container to hold the participants; funerals for deaths, a bris or baby naming for a birth, birthdays, celebrations, retirement parties, etc. But this transition, from being a happily married wife to becoming a full time care giver for someone who often didn’t know who I was, to now just a visitor and advocate of my loving husband felt all wrong. A huge shift had happened and yet the world didn’t pause for one moment to mark what was an emotionally shattering transition. I was emotionally floundering, trying to move through this transition. I wanted to shout from a roof top or keen into the night.

One day I encountered my Rabbi and said to her, “I keep talking to God like Tevya!” In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevya has an ongoing conversation with God as he encounters life’s challenges. I found myself literally asking out loud for God to help me survive the pain I was feeling. I realized I needed a ritual. I needed to pay attention to this personally earth shattering shift in my life. Luckily, I was someone who had experienced the profound transformational power that immersing offers. Rabbi Lauren said she would go with me, and I worked with her to create a ritual.

As I stood in the waters I spoke out loud things I wanted to release into the living waters: disappointments and regrets over what might have been, self recriminations, missing moments of beauty and humor because I was too overwhelmed to notice, and caring about anything but love.

Dunking slowly into the warm primordial waters, I felt I was entering into a loving stream of human history, of all the humans who had ever suffered from unacknowledged pain. A feeling of strength and release came over me. Before my second immersion I invited acceptance; not in a passive defeated way, but in an active, open acceptance that within my life, no matter how challenging, or how many times I fall down, I can find meaning and joy.

Before my third immersion I asked for blessings on my husband on his difficult journey.

Dunking three times in the Living Waters, I moved from deep sorrow, into the present moment there with myself and God, and finally, emerging from the third immersion into a kind of peace. Shalom as in wholeness, completeness. We cannot understand the mysteries of life. I don’t know why my husband went through the long decline he did, but for that final year, after immersing I was able to move into my role of loving companion, by his side, holding his hand until the end.

Pamela Rosenblum is a retired psychoanalyst living in New York City. She is on the Board of her synagogue, SAJ: Judaism that Stand for All, as well as the Lewy Body Dementia Resource Center. She feels blessed to be a Mikveh Guide for ImmerseNYC.


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