When the Moon Dances is a “coming of aging story” set in Israel during the late 90’s. Ongoing dialogue with the spirit world, friendship, and compassion, carry the narrator through the stressful nine-month ordeal of her mother’s dying.
Throughout the book Marianna’s personal growth is evident from her interactions with its characters, as she learns about death, grieving, and her Jewish culture.
Flashbacks to when her mother Virginia was young and vital highlight, with stark comparison, the fading elders Virginia and husband Jack have become.
Part I – Israel in 1996
Daughter Marianna rushes to Israel to visit Virginia after Jack almost dies in a diabetic coma. But no one has warned Marianna or even noticed the decline Marianna finds in her mother and in the household. Virginia, always efficient and vibrant, is now forgetful and deteriorating physically. But she continues the normalcy of her daily beach visits with her best friend, and reads in the afternoons, as usual, curled up on the living room couch.
Marianna, confused by these changes as the reality clears her vision, tries to stay centered in the chaos of Virginia and Jack’s encroaching deafness, blindness, and misunderstandings. Shamanic journeying, dancing, nature, deepening friendships, and emailing to “witnesses,” give sanity as disaster builds. Marianna finds a justifying comfort recording the surreal events that seem unbelievable even as they unfold.
Feeling like the only sensible one there, Marianna tries to correct and streamline the household’s functioning, conflicting with housekeeper and caretaker-by-default, Minty, who feeds diabetic Jack sugar. Marianna, showing little patience or compassion, becomes furious at Minty’s ineptitude, waste of food and resources, and general bullheadedness.
Although hampered by her lack of Hebrew, by the end of her trip Marianna breathes a sigh of relief that she has succeeded in arranging competent help for Minty’s day off, despite Minty’s active resistance. Seeing Jack’s abilities wane, Marianna spearheads the search and hiring of a bilingual secretary to help him keep the finances together.
Marianna both loves and hates Israel. The slow Mediterranean pace and the days at the beach with her mother feel soothing in contrast to the frustration of the inefficient Third-world aspects of a country that calls itself First-world. Marianna reacts with both tears and a subtle, ironic humor to the increasing absurdities that surround her. But she leaves Israel satisfied that she has completed what she needed to do.
Part II – Israel 1996-1997.
Marianna arrives back in Israel, appalled to find that Virginia no longer talks or reads and seems unaware of her surroundings.
Things get worse. Virginia is hospitalized the next day and no one can come up with a good diagnosis. Mad cow disease, deep depression, deteriorating brain. Marianna refuses to allow shock treatment. Horror at the medical incompetence pushes Marianna to become a passionate and driven advocate, as she takes control of negotiating with the medical establishment while also trying alternative ways to heal her mother.
Virginia comes out of her coma with the help of Marianna’s essential oils and further improves after a group does shamanic journeys for her on her 82nd birthday. But it doesn’t last. She is released from the hospital needing full time assistance. Care is bungled again. Fear and despair fight hope and acceptance, as Marianna struggles with the concept of nursing homes, her agenda of witnessing Virginia’s death, and the gross ineptitude that surrounds her.
Marianna and Jack have a huge, unexpected fight when Marianna uses the dreaded word, suggesting that her Mom die at home. Despite tears and yelling, Jack refuses to acknowledge the obvious. And Virginia refuses to die on schedule, upsetting Marianna’s lofty anticipations. Shortly before Marianna leaves, her mother is finally diagnosed with late stage Parkinson’s. The symptoms are classic. When it is time to return home to the US, Marianna is so stressed she misses her flight.
Part III – Israel 1997
A month later Virginia dies. Marianna and her sister return to Israel in a daze for the funeral and the Jewish mourning rituals. They must dispose of Mom’s belongings, buy a headstone, find the will. Mirrors covered, they sit Shiva for seven days, entertaining mother’s friends and discovering new dimensions of Virginia’s life in Israel. Marianna makes peace with Minty and Jack. The cycles continue and Marianna accepts that she is now the oldest in her generation of women.