Dear Dr. Yael:
I admired your very appropriate reply to Anonymous about being careful what you say to others (Nishmah Vena’aseh: Think Before Speaking – 6-7).
I painfully lost a son more than 15 years ago due to a drug overdose.
We are a chassidish family. My son got into the wrong crowd, and some of his friends (both girls and boys) also died from drug overdoses. Others, though, were fortunate to get help and are now frum and married with families. But many of the married friends have serious medical problems, e.g. heart conditions, due to the quantity of their drug consumption as teenagers.
When I read your column, I recalled how painful it was to sit shiva for this child. Not only did he destroy our family in so many ways, he also stole many things from us in order to pay for his drug addiction. Unfortunately, he was introduced to drugs by an older “frum” chassidish man who destroyed so many children just to make a buck.
Nevertheless, he was my child and I loved him. The pain of sitting shiva for a child that I loved was compounded by the insensitive remarks that people made to my husband and me during the shiva period. Some told us that we should have gotten him better professional help.
What were these people thinking? Do they have any idea how many professionals we sought help from? Do they know how much money we spent in our quest to save him? Did they ever think that he was simply unreachable? I am not blaming the professionals, for some tried very hard to help him. But a drug addiction is an awful, poisonous disease. It is all too often virtually impossible to beat.
I will never forget the people who supposedly came to comfort us while we were sitting shiva, but who in fact did the exact opposite.
How could these people judge us when they were never faced with such nisyonos in their lives? The hurtful remarks still sting my heart. I still ponder this question: What were they thinking when they criticized us during the most vulnerable period in our lives?
Baruch Hashem, the rest of our children turned out amazing. We have several married children and beautiful grandchildren. Some are great bnei Torah, and the world views us in a different light today. But we will never forget the child that left us far too soon – and far too tragically.
I cheered as I read your answer. I hope that people will listen to your important message – if they have nothing positive or helpful to say – say nothing and just listen! It is the best advice one can follow.
You are halachically correct when you point out that a visitor should not initiate a conversation with an aveil sitting shiva. Instead, the person sitting shiva should commence the conversation if he or she wishes. And if the aveil does not want to talk, the visitor should just sit there and attempt to express comfort by silently exhibiting care. The visitor should always remember that no advice is required or appropriate in such a situation – since it is too late for any advice to be helpful.
While it is now many years later, our pain will never be healed. Yes, both time and the nachas we have certainly helped, but a family never forgets their child, a child they tried to raise in a Toradik manner.
Dr. Yael, thank you for your amazing column that appears in my favorite newspaper. May Hashem guide your efforts to help klal Yisrael. To use your signature ending, hatzlachah to you and your daughter, Dr. Orit.
Thank you for your words of chizuk and beautiful message. You certainly appear to be a very positive person, and the fact that you raised such a beautiful family is proof enough that your children have wonderful parents.
Unfortunately, I know people who lost children to the drug epidemic, and your story sounds the same as theirs. Any human being who can destroy the lives of so many innocent children by selling drugs due to his financial greed is beyond horrible.
Regarding your experience while sitting shiva, it is integral for Klal Yisrael to be sensitive toward others who are in great pain for various reasons.
Whether it is someone sitting shiva for a son who was killed while driving (I mentioned in the original column that the grieving parents were told, insensitively and ridiculously, that “your son should not have been driving”); or someone sitting shiva for a child who was the victim of a drug overdose; or a woman struggling with fertility who is subjected to staring by people who erroneously conclude that she is pregnant because of her obvious weight gain (as opposed to the reality that she gained weight as a result of the fertility treatment she is undergoing) – the universal message is this: think before you speak!
My heart goes out to you for the pain you’ve endured. I hope that your well-written letter will propel people to think before they consider saying hurtful or inappropriate things to others. Hatzlachah as you raise your beautiful family, and may Hashem continue to shower you with only simcha and nachas!Dr. Yael Respler
About the Author: Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Respler will be on 102.1 FM at 10:00 pm Sunday evenings after Country Yossi.
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