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October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
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Out Of The Mouths Of Children

(Names have been changed)


This world is full of goodness. People are generous and caring and willing to help. As we age, we sometimes lose focus on what is good around us and (if only for a while) wallow in the experiences that have upset us and caused us pain. Our perspective gets distorted and we see evil where there is none intended, and cruelty in the place of thoughtlessness.

We embrace grudges and hang them in gold frames in the living room of our mind. Well spouses fall prey to this perhaps more often then the rest of us as they cope with the hardships of their daily lives. What often rescues us is the perception of children. Clear and undistorted by years of disappointment, children often remind us that people are basically good and caring. Their view of the world, their generosity of spirit, help us take down the grudge picture and remind us that the world is full of positives. All we have to do is be willing to see them.

Miriam’s Story:

“It had been the hardest two years I could remember. I was a “veteran” well spouse and thought I had been through it all. For more years than I’d like to remember, I had dealt with the ups and downs of the disease and always managed. But this time it was different. Perhaps it was harder because I was getting older, or more tired, or more depressed. Perhaps it was because my children were gone and the need to be strong for them was no longer there. Whatever the reason, I found myself forgetting to pay bills, keep appointments, and I was generally taking longer to do everything.

I prioritized and way down on my list was the gifts I owed. My refrigerator seemed wallpapered with invitations to weddings, bar mitzvas, graduations and birth announcements. It was my filing system. I kept the invitations on the fridge until the gift was sent. As some of these invitations were by now almost two years old, I decided it was time to take a day and catch up with my gift giving. I did it resentfully, without my usual joy in sharing thoughts of happy occasions, wishing I could use the time for something more self-indulgent.

With each delayed gift went a note of explanation about my husband’s deteriorating health over the past two years, and an apology for the lateness of the gift. It was only when I received this thank you note from a Bar Mitzva Boy whose Bar Mitzva was almost two years ago that I did a complete turn about. Here was a teen, an age that is synonymous with self-indulgence, showing more generosity of heart than I had shown for a long time. His note pulled me out of my depression, as his selflessness and generosity made me ashamed of my own self absorbed behavior.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. T…

Thank you for the money and the card. It was very generous of you. In your letter to me, you said that you were sorry that you were late. After reading your card, I realized that you shouldn’t be sorry at all. I thank you for being one of the few people in this world who puts others in front of themselves. I am going to take $25 from what you gave me and I am going to give it to a fund to try and help find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis.

Sincerely…

Miriam continues: “I have kept this letter. It is hanging on my fridge where I can see it every day. It is still surrounded by invitations that need gifts sent. But I send these gifts with a more joyous heart now, celebrating the milestones they honor. Whenever I see this note, my heart sings. No matter how difficult my day may have been, I feel joy. I feel joy and gratitude that a young teen reminded me of the generosity and caring of people, and that the world is indeed full of goodness.”

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/out-of-the-mouths-of-children/2004/07/21/

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