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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
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The Sound Of Silence

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(Names changed)

Silence is assent, or so the saying goes. Yet, in today’s world, does someone’s silence mean agreement? Not responding to an invitation to a simcha (silence) is taken as a negative response. Agreement from a passive-aggressive person is just another way of saying no. Knowing what silence means, when it comes from someone else, is difficult. However, when people make a commitment, agree to a plan or give their word to something, is it not assumed they will follow through, or at least tell you why they didn’t? When nothing happens and the task is not done or the commitment reneged on, and all you hear is silence (as if the agreement never happened), you are left in bewilderment and anger.

Malky was having a hard time going through her chronically ill husband’s things after he had passed on. She was thrilled when her daughter offered to come and help. The only problem was that Malky’s daughter would have to stay over several days (she lived quite a distance away) and because of this she would have to bring her two young children. After two days of emotionally laden work, with constant interruption by the two young children, Malky realized that they would never finish going through her husband’s things without help with the children. She called around to see if anyone’s older children were available to help babysit. One parent made the commitment for her children. She said her children were very tired after camp, but she could imagine how difficult it was for Malky, and so her children would be happy to commit to help for a few hours the next day starting at 1:00.

It wasn’t till after 2:00 that Malky realized the sitters weren’t coming, and probably never intended to come. Through the grapevine, Malky heard that the parent had difficulty saying no when Malky asked for the favor, and so decided to agree, but just not have the children show up. Meanwhile, Malky fell further behind in her emotionally charged work, and another day was lost.

Tzippy told me that she found herself in the exact situation as Malky. The difference was, that she had already gone through her husband’s things by herself but found it too painful to deal with the accounts and people. Presenting the death certificate over and over and answering the questions at the bank, the phone company and everywhere her husband’s name needed to be removed, was just too painful to do alone. She didn’t want her young grandchildren to see her in the state she knew she’d be in, doing this task, and she dreaded doing it alone. She, too, asked a favor in the form of baby-sitting time. She, too, was let down at the last minute with silence as the explanation for the noshow. In the end Tzippy and her daughter took the children to the various appointments. They had no other choice. The children found it frightening to see their grandmother cry, over and over again, at each stop. The pain the children went through, as well as the pain Tzippy went through, by watching her grandchildren’s discomfort and fear each time she broke down, could all have been avoided if the sitter had shown up. Further, an explanation was never given and an apology never received.

When making a commitment to someone – even a tentative commitment – and then not following through, it is important to take the 60 seconds to make a phone call and let the person know, who is relying on you. Otherwise, the person at the other end may have to manage unexpectedly at the last minute, be unable to keep appointments or go through more grief than would be necessary.

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