Dear Ms. Novick,
I would like to thank you for your thoughtful column. The information you provide has helped me through the ups and downs of living with a spouse who had MS.
There is one issue I have not seen addressed – shidduchim of children whose parent has a chronic illness. My beautiful, intelligent daughter has been unable to get a date because, “your dad has MS.” I guess people take that to mean, “Your home is depressing.”
Do you know anyone or any resource to help our children? I am at wits end. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
A Well Spouse
Dear Well Spouse,
This is an extremely important issue and I thank you for suggesting it. I am glad my articles have been helpful to you. I hope, with Hashem’s help, I can assist you in this matter as well.
You seemed to have raised two issues here. The first is the supposed detriment of dating and, potentially marrying, a person who has an ill parent. The second is the depression that is assumed to accompany the situation.
For many people, dealing with illness is something they will go to any lengths to avoid. And so, if a parent is ill, whether that illness may have a possible genetic correlation or not, is reason enough for some parents and shadchanim to negate a potential match. Yet if we look around us, we all know couples who are suffering from terrible illnesses with no family history of the disease. We also all know many people who have a disability or chronic illness whose children and grandchildren have no such problem. “But why take a chance. There are more fish in the sea,” is the response I have heard from many parents who refuse to hear a shidduch with a family who is coping with illness.
Using a microscope to examine the history of a potential spouse has become the norm. Parents of “perfect children” want only “perfect matches” for their children. But which of us truly have flawless children, and how many children really grow in homes where they have never experienced problems? And is a child who has never had to deal with adversity better prepared for the world a young couple must face than one who has? Have the concepts of bashert and bitachon been totally thrown to the wayside when it comes to marrying off our children?
We all wish for our children joyous, anguish-free lives. But is that really even possible? No one goes through life without facing difficulties – some illness, disagreement or hardships. It is the people who can handle difficulty, who aren’t scared off at the first sign of a problem that handle adversity more easily and efficiently and get their family through it relatively unscathed. And those are often the people with experience. They are often the children of a parent with chronic illness.
We already do genetic testing for Tay-Sachs disease and, I believe nine or 10 other genetic diseases, through Dor Yeshorim. Perhaps it would be a good idea to extend this, if possible, to other diseases that have a known or suspected genetic component upon the request of families dealing with these illnesses. This might give those children of the chronically ill a better chance at dating, and not be eliminated because of what might be in their genes. Further, it will help us remember that not all illnesses have a genetic base.
Living in a home with illness can certainly lead to depression. But to assume it does in all cases is ridiculous. Today, depression can be handled successfully in many ways and does not have to be a lifestyle. When other methods fail, antidepressants can help us cope with life’s difficulties. While I am not advocating their indiscriminate use, they have their place when needed, as does all medication that alleviates symptoms. If there is long term or short term depression in your home resulting from living with illness for many years, medication is definitely something to discuss with your doctor. If your home is depression-free, make sure to ask the references you give to shadchanim to mention that your home is a comfortable, happy place in order to offset the assumption that it is the opposite, even before the question is asked. This is especially important when people are assuming that depression exists wherever there is chronic illness and may not even ask for verification for what they assume is true.
I would be grateful to hear from my readers about their thoughts and/or experiences when it comes to dating a person with an ill parent. My suspicion is that those who have married children of the chronically ill have a lot to teach us and share with shadchanim. I would also like to hear from shadchanim and get their point of view on setting up children like the daughter of the letter writer.
Any shadchan or person wanting to contact the writer of the letter concerning her daughter can do so through me. I will happily forward your ideas.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.