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Dilemma (Part One)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I don’t know what to do, so I decided to seek your guidance. I am a 76-year old widow. For the past two years, my husband, my beloved partner in life, was in and out of hospitals, struggling with a devastating terminal illness – cancer of the colon. It was an agonizing experience for my family and me. His suffering was beyond words, and we tried everything. In addition to chemotherapy, we explored all the possibilities available in homeopathic and natural cures, but it was to no avail. My daughters read up on radical treatments available in Europe and researched every possible option. In short, we tried them all, but it was futile.

Baruch Hashem, I have five children, all married. Two live in Israel, one in Monsey, one in Chicago, and the oldest in Queens. (I live in Brooklyn.) While my husband was in the hospital, they all came to be with me. Obviously, those from out of the country and out-of-town could not stay for prolonged periods of time. My daughter in Queens was the most available since she was able to get into Manhattan without too much difficulty.

My son from Monsey would come in the evening, but when it comes to illness, a son is different from a daughter. He would come in, stay a while, and leave. I understood the many demands on his life – his job, his family…but, if not for my daughter, I would have been alone in the hospital most of the day. Such is the reality of life… you can have five children and still be alone.

My daughter-in-law is a sweet young woman, but you can’t expect a daughter- in-law to be as committed as a daughter. She would visit sporadically, stay a while, and leave. Those of my children, who live out-of-town or out of the country, could of course, not even do that. I hold no resentment – It is what it is, and I accept it. I want you to have an honest picture of the dynamics of my family.

While my husband was ill, my days and my nights were totally involved with him. During shiva, the house was full of people and, while I often found the lack of privacy burdensome, it was comforting to know that so many people cared. The many visitors who came gave me the opportunity to recall my husband’s life and recount amazing stories that were reflective of him – his kindness and wisdom.

So, as painful as that shiva period was, it was also consoling. I found strength and comfort in the presence of my children and grandchildren. Knowing we were all together as a family was, in and of itself, uplifting.

After shiva my children returned to their homes, the doors closed and no one came to visit. The silence that descended upon my home after shiva was deafening and drove home the loneliness that would henceforth mark my life. It is for this reason that I decided to write to you.

Knowing that you experienced your own struggle when you lost your husband I thought you would understand my plight. You, however, are constantly involved in a very active, productive life, but there is not much I can do. At my age, I can’t find a job. In our current economy, even younger people cannot find work, and I, older and not trained in any skill, cannot realistically hope to find employment. My husband and I spent all our time together – we did everything as one. He was retired, but even before his retirement, my life centered on him and I never developed outside interests – I lived for him and our children.

Now, time lies heavily upon me. I am depressed, and have no energy, I’ve stopped cooking…. it doesn’t make sense to cook for myself. Truthfully, I feel no incentive to do anything. My children invite me to come stay with them…I go, but don’t want to be a burden to them and those visits don’t resolve anything. I feel that I’m excess baggage, and when I return home, I am confronted by the same emptiness as before. Please don’t think that I am ungrateful, but that is my story.

I love my children, I adore my grandchildren…. but as I said earlier, I am afraid of becoming an unwelcome guest. Do you think I am wrong? When I voice my feelings, they assure me that would never be the case. Still… I don’t know.

My daughter in Queens tells me that I should sell my house and move in with her. I must tell you, Rebbetzin, that while I know her invitation is sincere, I am afraid to act on it. For one thing, I don’t know how my son-in-law would feel. While now he is polite and considerate, I’m afraid that if I become a permanent resident, his attitude would change.

Someone suggested that I consider remarriage. When that was first mentioned to me, I rejected it out-of-hand. There was no way that I could entertain such an idea. But of late, as my loneliness has become more acute, I have come to wonder at the wisdom of my decision. Sometimes it occurs to me that I should consider remarrying. I know that you have made many shidduchim, so I thought that you could give me an honest answer as to whether such aspirations are realistic. What are the chances of a person my age finding a good shidduch?

Finally, I have some health considerations. My children worry about me. They tell me that it’s not good to live alone. To be honest, I’m not in perfect physical shape. The years have weighed heavily upon me. I am under a doctor’s care and take medication for high blood pressure, heart disease, and osteoporosis – however, please don’t think that I am in any way an invalid. I do get around and am able to take care of my needs. To be sure, 76 is 76, and I can’t deny my years, even though people tell me that I look much younger.

So my question, Rebbetzin, is what should I do? Should I sell my house and move in with my daughter, call shadchanim, or should I do nothing and hope for the best? If you could respond, I would appreciate it.

My situation is not unique and typifies the plight of many widows, so, if you feel that others may benefit by reading this, I have no objection to your printing my letter provided that my identity remain anonymous.

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