Ask Jewish children their favorite part of the Passover seder and it’s quite likely they will answer, “Searching for the afikomen.” The afikomen is a piece of matzo broken off and hidden by an adult – under a couch cushion, in a kitchen drawer, behind a picture frame on a shelf. At some point in the evening's festivities, the kids are set loose to find the afikomen. The lucky child who finds it is rewarded with a token amount of money.
At our family's seders, all the kids get some cash, not just the lucky one who finds the afikomen. And for as long as I can remember, it’s been my dad who hands out the winnings. Each child will come to him to collect the $5 or $10 bill being given out that holiday season.
This year, for the first time, my dad won’t be able to participate. He has Parkinson’s disease, which has stolen his ability to walk, move and talk. Now, finally, it's robbed him of tradition.
Last year, my dad was still living at home with the care of home health aides and my mom. We had our Passover Seder gathered on folding chairs in a circle in the room with his hospital bed and the reclining chair in which he passed much of his day. While he couldn’t hide the afikomen or even take a turn reading from the Passover Haggadah, he was still there with us and my mom was still able to put the bills into one of his hands. Each child could still come to Grandpa to take one from him.
This year, Dad’s in a nursing home, his disease too advanced to allow him to even come home for a day for the seder. At Thanksgiving, the family brought a turkey and the trimmings to the nursing home and had the feast where Dad now lives. But the Passover seder is much more complicated to transport and execute, and we'll be doing it at my sister's house.
The finding of the afikomen this year will be bittersweet. I'm sure my mom or my uncle will take over the job for Dad. But when it’s time for the kids to find the afikomen, my thoughts won’t be focused on their often comical and frantic search to discover where it’s hidden, but with my dad, several miles away in his nursing home bed.