Dear Rachel, Before I begin, I’d like to emphasize that I am only an onlooker and that my observations have been arrived at strictly through a closely involved party.
This is about a tragedy that has unfolded in one of our fine communities and has generated a flood of strong opinion and high emotions among a close circle of friends, neighbors and within the suffering family itself. (To protect the identities of the people connected to this story, I have altered some identifying details.)
A few months ago an adorable little girl of less than a year was rescued from the lethal jaws of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) by one of her parents who happened to check on her as she slept, since she had been uncharacteristically cranky earlier in the day.
Though the child was no longer breathing, she was eventually brought around with the help of dedicated Hatzolah members and hospital staff, but the outcome of a prolonged period of oxygen deprivation had already left its devastating effect on the poor baby.
Needless to say, the sober event turned this family’s life upside down. The initial medical prognosis was grim, to say the least, yet the broken-hearted parents refused to give up on their once precocious and lively little girl. Once the child was stabilized as best as she could be, she was brought home to the loving embrace of her family, who immediately embarked on a course of therapeutic treatments — for the most part prescribed by alternative/unconventional medicine mavens.
As the Yiddish saying goes, az men gevoint zich tzi tzu tzoros, laybt men in freiden (one who adjusts to his woes lives with joy). The parents and siblings of this child are filled with optimism and are committed to seeing her restored to optimum health — regardless of how grueling the input, how much time expended or how many miles they must travel in the process. They have tremendous emunah, which is a major factor in their persistence, and they are convinced that their adored daughter/sister will make a full recovery.
However, they seem to be confronting a challenge on another front: the chaos that rages on in the extended family, some of who feel strongly that all this exertion is a wasted effort, that the parents are in denial and that their energy should be directed to their other children who must be suffering physical and emotional deprivation under the circumstances. In other words, some very close relatives feel their “loyalty” lies in trying to impose their negative views upon this family, and this seems to be creating needless anxiety in an already stressful situation.
I am hoping that readers of your column will be motivated to respond with their own insight gained from having undergone similar experiences. This story should also serve as caution to parents to be ever mindful in the care of their children, especially babies who are fragile and more vulnerable to all sorts of mishaps.
I guess the bigger question, Rachel, is how does one react to vocal expressions of pessimism, as displayed by those relatives vehemently opposed to the way these poor parents have chosen to deal with the sudden curveball life has thrown their way. I’ve also been told about cutting, albeit well intentioned, comments by “professionals” who tell the parents that all they can do is to “keep the baby comfortable and ensure that her condition doesn’t worsen.”
By the way, this little girl has shown some visible improvement since she was first released from the hospital, which only encourages the hopeful parents to continue on in their quest to bring her back to life as she once was. A well-meaning outsider
Dear Outsider, Your letter raises several issues but glosses over the most obvious one: that Hashem is the Rofeh Cholim (healer of the sick) and quite capable of pulling off what man would deem “inconceivable.”
As for the relatives who believe they know what is best for the child belonging to another, and think nothing of interfering with the very personal decision-making of the child’s parents, they are sorely lacking in faith as well as good sense.
Has it occurred to anyone involved in all of this speculation and discussion about what this family “ought to be doing, could have done or should not be doing” that they may well be transgressing the laws of lashon hara? Besides, who are we to try to fathom Hashem’s mysterious ways?
Wouldn’t time be better spent in supporting this family in its hour of need? Offers of meals, food shopping, babysitting, car rides, encouraging words, monetary support, and prayers for the child’s refuah would surely be more welcome than unasked for and uninformed advice.
Even you as an “onlooker” – or better yet, “outsider” – are missing a wealth of information that makes it impossible for you to truly empathize with this family’s pain. Those who have not walked in their shoes have no right to say, “If I were you…” Be grateful you are not.