12 February

At The Mansion: Madeline Gets Adopted At Last

by Jon Katz
Madeline’s Adopted

We drive by elder care facilities all the time, and they seem quite and uneventful, but if you spend some time there, you can discover the wild happenings inside.

I was very surprised yesterday when I an into Sylvie and Madeline coming out of the activity’s room. With my camera – the residents love to be photographed  – I am not the chronicler of special deeds. “Jon,” announced Sylvie in her very formal way.

“I think you should take a picture of this.” I was puzzled. “What am I taking a picture of, aside from two wonderful women?”

Sylvie smiled and put arm around Madeline, who is 94 this year.

“I’m adopting Madeline,” Sylvie said. Sylvie is generally serious and reserved. I was a bit taken aback.

Both of them were beaming.

I remembered. Of course. Madeline witnessed her brother stab her father to death when she was five, the family fell apart and she, the youngest in an Italian-American Catholic family, was sent to a Jewish orphanage in the Bronx where she spent the next 13 years of her life, and learned a fair amount of Yiddish, which pops up at odd times in her conversation from time to time.

She was never adopted from the orphanage.

Sylvie, in her 70’s, was the daughter of American diplomats assigned to Europe in the grim years after World War II. She suffered two severe nervous breakdowns which altered the course of her life and sent her into a lifetime of institutional care. She has had other health issues in recent years.

Sylvia is a devout Jehovah’s Witness and is busy in prayers and letter writing on behalf of the church. She heard Madeline tell her story the other day in our story-telling workshop and she offered to adopt her. Madeline was deeply affected by the idea and the two just held one another out in the hallway for a bit, an unusual show of emotion for either of them.

I was very privileged to be there to record this event and I volunteered to photograph the ceremony. Some interesting times at the Mansion, just the other day, I photographed the beginning of the Wonderful Ladies Club. I think Sylvie just joined.


  1. Thank you for sharing this deeply beautiful experience between two souls who realized how much they share at their root. I can feel their hearts daring to share their pain in an unspoken way with another soul who truly understands.

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