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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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Plagued By Guilt (Part One)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I am overwhelmed by pain, have no peace and cannot sleep. Every night I lie in bed thinking, and all my thoughts cause me anguish. Please, Rebbetzin, I know how busy you are, and I apologize for the length of this letter, but in order for you to understand my suffering, I have to tell you my whole story.

Last week, the shloshim period for my husband ended. People told me that in time my pain would cease, but it’s just the opposite. Each day it gets worse.

My husband and I were married for 42 years and had a wonderful marriage. G-d blessed us with three beautiful children. We had the great joy of taking all three under the chuppah. Bli ayin ha’ra, today we have 11 grandchildren, all very special and loving. We have always been a close family – whatever my husband and I did, we did as a team. I was one of those old-fashioned wives who never went anywhere alone. I just never wanted to be separated from him or felt secure without him. And then overnight, my world was shattered.

I should have noticed something was wrong when we went to my daughter in Baltimore for Rosh Hashanah. My husband, always energetic, had difficulty making the walk to shul, or doing the things he always did. He attributed his fatigue to exhaustion and business pressures.

When we returned to New York, I suggested he go for a checkup, so he went to our physician who told us that he didn’t see anything remarkable and suggested he try a vitamin regimen to give him more energy. But it did not help. We thought that perhaps he needed a vacation, a change of environment, so we went to Florida. At first it appeared he was getting better, but when we returned to New York, we realized that his condition had remained the same.

Then, one day, I received a call from his secretary telling me that he had collapsed and was taken to the hospital. I will never forget that call. It was like my whole world had fallen apart. I kept telling myself that it couldn’t be, but I could not escape the tragic reality. I called my children and we all rushed to the hospital where the doctors greeted us with ominous news. They had found a huge tumor, which looked suspicious and recommended immediate surgery. You can imagine the rest.

When the surgeon came out of the O.R. his face was grim, and his entire demeanor telegraphed that the prognosis was bad. He was a kind, considerate man and broke the news as gently as he could, saying that, while the operation was successful and he was able to remove the tumor, the cancer had spread. He recommended chemotherapy. “You can have it done here or at any other hospital you choose,” he told us.

The second chapter of our torture started. Which hospital and which doctor to choose? Or, we wondered, perhaps we should stay where we were? Many different suggestions were made, and my children turned to me to make the final decision. While I liked the doctor where we were – he was a real mentch – I thought that my husband’s chance of recovery would be greater in a more prestigious hospital where radical and aggressive treatments were more readily available, and that was the biggest mistake I made.

From the moment we started treatment, my husband’s condition rapidly deteriorated. The staff, accustomed to dealing with terminally ill patients was totally insensitive. It was apparent in their attitude that they did not share my hope for his recovery. There were many outrageous signs of neglect. Even now, it’s too painful to write about, but I keep thinking about it day and night.

It’s one thing to deal with the pain of losing your beloved partner in life, but something else again to deal with guilt of having made wrong decisions. I keep thinking that had I been more alert and insisted he immediately see a specialist when he initially felt fatigued the problem would have been detected. Instead of being given a regimen of vitamins, he could have been treated and his life might have been saved. I keep thinking about the doctors and the hospital that I chose and realize that my choice was a huge mistake. I would have been better off having him stay where the initial surgery was performed and where the doctor was very kind and the staff attentive.

I keep asking myself, “Why wasn’t I alert? Why didn’t I force him to go to a specialist right away? Why did I have him transferred?” Losing your life partner is painful enough, but being plagued by guilt is anguish I do not wish on anyone. I feel depressed and tortured.

Then I have another concern. My children invite me for Shabbos, and I go, but I have no relief there either. I realize that I make them depressed and that’s unfair to them and their children. Then I’m wracked with guilt for spoiling their Shabbos and being a burden. My children insisted I go on medication, but that does not take away my problem. I wish I could overcome my depression, but it is not something I can control. There is much darkness in my heart and mind, and that darkness prevents me from seeing any light.

My daughter heard you speak and suggested I go to see you. It’s difficult for me to get out at night, so I decided to write. How I can find peace within myself and overcome my guilt? Should I continue visiting my children for Shabbos? My daughter offered to create a separate apartment for me in her house. Should I accept her offer? I don’t know what to do.

I know that you helped another widow whose letter was recently published in your column. I hope you can help me as well.

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