Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I don’t know why I’m writing to you, but I feel that you are the rare person who can fully understand my matzav. I am writing in the hope of veering young women out there away from the mistakes I made. If I can do that, I will fee somewhat redeemed.
I am seventy-nine years old, but young at heart. I have, for the most part, good children and super amazing grandchildren. However, there are two of my eight children with whom I have no relationship or contact, they are both single. My husband is nearing his 92nd birthday and does not see or hear well and suffers from dementia.
Here is my story.
I was born to European parents who were smuggled out of Hungary on one of the last transports during the war. They lost their entire families. They settled in Williamsburg to be near distant relatives. My father became a rebbe in a yeshiva and my mother got a job as a piece-work operator in a sewing factory. I was born two years later. They somehow managed to maintain a shtetl life-style, which caused me great unhappiness growing up. I was always the “greeneh cusineh,” as my parents became citizens, but never really Americanized.
I went to Bais Yaakov and graduated with hopes of going to college and becoming a doctor. My parents had other plans. I began shidduch dating and working at the age of 17 ½. I was desperate to get away from my house and begin a life with someone who actually lived in this world. I met Sendor*, an accountant where I worked, and we became very close. We shared the same background – and the same vision for the future. He too, felt smothered by his strict, European parents and it was not long before we knew that we wanted to get married. I played along with my parents’ wishes for a short time, meeting 3 men suggested for me by shadchanim. Then, I let my parents in on the fact that I had already met the man I was going to marry.
My furious parents blamed my cousin for introducing me to a man behind their back and even though our families were of identical backgrounds and his parents were from a rabbinic dynasty, they would not be swayed. You see, he was clean shaven and didn’t wear payos. However, I was determined. When I threatened never to marry, they finally gave in, but cried all the way to the chuppah.
The madness started shortly after the sheva brachos. Sendor was the classic “mama’s boy.” I came in second, if at all. During those first months he spent time with his mother, shopping for her, helping her with laundry and other household tasks, often coming home close to midnight because he stopped off at her house and stayed for dinner because she was lonely. When I complained, he became angry and said that his mother was a great part of his life and I should get used to it. Well, I soon found out that I had many things to get used to, like the fact that I had to work throughout my pregnancies if I was to make ends meet because what he gave me was pennies and said I had to make due. I had to get used to temper and flying fists, ugly name calling in private and in public, and abuses of every kind. I also had to get used to being the indentured servant and his mother the queen.
My children, for the most part, didn’t miss their absentee father, although the older two did suffer the worst cases of child abuse until I put my foot down and threatened to report him to the police. I was the sole source of love, support, encouragement, tutoring and mentoring for all of my kids and their strongest champion and protector. I loved each and every one of them and they never knew what a lifeline they were for me. As they got older and understood what I lived with, the older two took off and never looked back. They are both still single. My other children, Baruch Hashem, choose good spouses and today, have solid Torahdik homes with children who are bnei and bnos Torah.
So, here I am, today, in an empty house devoid of the love and laughter my children brought to me when they were young and at home. I am stuck with an old, sick and demented demon, whose vile and hateful mouth never ceases to curse me, yell and spit at me. It is too late for me to walk away, although I probably should. But my guilt at having disobeyed my parents makes me a prisoner worthy of the punishment I created for myself. My children beg me to come live with them. My grandchildren are persistent that I come to stay with them and, in truth, I am sorely tempted to spend my last years basking in their love. But my conscience won’t allow me to leave that decrepit monster. In my mind, I must finish out my punishment for not being mekayem kibbud av v’aym.
So, thank you for listening. I am sure you get many letters from young people decrying the rules and regulations they must abide by from strict but loving parents. Parents who know the pitfalls and the dangers because they see with hindsight what the young are blinded to. Parents who love their children enough that they are willing to make tough decisions for them.
I hope my life will open a few young eyes and minds to the truth that not every “no” is the end of the world, it may truly be the safety net that protects and shields them from making the greatest mistake of their life.
My heart goes out to you, both in gratitude for sharing your journey and for caring enough to want to prevent this from happening to others. However, if there is anything I have learned, it is that the young will only hear what they want to hear. They will have to endure the trial and tribulation that comes with the choices they make. Yet, if there is even one young person reading your letter and heed your advice, it will have been as if you saved a world.
I empathize with you in your sadness, but all is not lost. You say you have good children and grandchildren and if they live nearby, they can give you some respite from caregiving and allow you some well earned R&R. There is no reason that you should not be able to enjoy the years you have been gifted and do the things that will give you pleasure. As for fulfilling your punishment for being a disobedient child, I think you’ve probably done a double tour of duty on that transgression. Abolish the guilt you feel for a crime almost every child commits and consider who you will explain to Hashem that you wasted the gift of life He granted you.