Dear Dr. Respler:
Regarding your January 17 column, “Passing On One’s Holocaust Experiences,” I wish to offer some comforting words to the grandmother whose father is sharing his wartime experiences with his 11-year-old great-grandson (the letter writer’s grandson).
I am also a child of survivors, one whose mother still has a clear mind. Although she is physically healthy, she is very depressed. All my life she never shared any details of the atrocities she endured during the war. I think if she shared her pain, she would unburden herself. I agree with you that the letter writer needs to redirect the audience for her father’s horror stories, but it sounds like her father is still enjoying his life and relating to his family. Conversely, my mother has always been a quiet, sad person.
Baruch Hashem, our amazing father had a positive outlook and dealt with his issues differently. I feel very bad for my mother; as no one wants to be around her, she is very lonely. She has no friends, and even her few contemporaries who went through what she endured are different than my mother. While I may be reading between the lines, it seems from the letter that this woman’s father is not depressed. Thus, she should be grateful that he still wants to be a part of the lives of his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and you. That being said, I reiterate my agreement that this woman must help her father find another medium to express his painful memories. An 11-year-old child should not be put in the position of having to deal with these issues.
I wish my mother would talk about her pain. In fact, I showed the woman’s letter to my mother thinking it would start a conversation between us. But all she said was that she did not want to discuss the column and that the great-grandfather should keep his feelings to himself. I said to her, “Mommy, it is better to talk about your feelings. Maybe if you would talk about your past, you would not be so sad all the time.” She just became quiet and said that she is who she is and that she could not change at her age. I even raised the idea of a support group (I had one lined up for her), but she said that she just wants to bury the past and that I should never again bring up this issue.
Even though I don’t know the woman who wrote the letter, I just want to convey to her my hope that she look at the positive side of this situation. She should be grateful that her father is at least talking about his past and that he appears to be taking an active part in his daughter’s and her family’s life. For this she should be happy.
Silence is not always golden. Expressing feelings helps people move on and enjoy their lives. I think Hitler, yimach shemo, did not only kill six million Jews, but also killed my mother’s spirit and denied me the ability to have a normal mother. Thank you for listening, Dr. Respler, and keep up your great work.
A Child of Survivors
Dear Child of Survivors:
Thank you for your letter. In life we must always try to find the positive in every situation.
I hope this woman reads your letter and sees another angle to her situation. With respect to your mother, she appears to be clinically depressed. It seems as if she took all the anger she accrued during the war and turned it inward. This might be the cause of her depression. I think you should recommend to your mother that she receive professional help.
Even if she refuses to speak about her past, perhaps some medication can help alter her negative mood. Another idea is for her to begin to address other subjects, which can lead to talking about her past in a more natural manner. Finally, exercise is the greatest anti-depressant. Maybe you can help your mother enroll in an exercise class geared both to people her age and in her physical situation. For instance, swimming is a recommended exercise for people of all ages.
Since your mother is not interested in joining a support group, possibly just getting her involved in more activities would be helpful. Other people surrounding her will likely help her. However, if your mother is indeed clinically depressed, getting her to do anything will be challenging. You need to prepare yourself for some resistance, as depression sufferers generally do not have any desire to do anything. This may force you to practically have to drag your mother to some of these activities, but remember that it will be well worth the difficulty if your mother responds positively and her mood begins to improve.
Thank you for advising all of us to be appreciative for what we have. I wish you much hatzlachah with your mother, and I hope you have the zechus to help her unburden herself.Dr. Yael Respler
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