(Names and circumstances changed)
The topic of discussion of the support group was our children. How do the children of the chronically ill cope? One parent is sick and needs constant care, while the other is doing double and triple duty to provide that care, bring in an income, bring up the children (most often as a single parent), and still find some moments for him/herself. The well spouse is doing triple duty just to get through the day.
The people in the support group felt that no matter how hard we try our children get cheated. They get less attention, have more responsibility, and often have chronic sadness that comes with living with constant illness in the home. As a result, the children of the chronically ill may act out more and may have a bit of trouble concentrating in school.
Our hope is that our communities, our schools and youth groups would understand our children’s needs and help out. We hope that seeing their life, they will empathize and give our children an added bit of attention, a bit of praise when deserved, an opportunity for an outing that the illness has stolen. Perhaps a time to be with “normal” families and just have fun.
The reality is quite different, even regarding friends. And so our children are often treated in a manner that causes us to be angry and frustrated. Perhaps because of the pain we feel when our children are rejected or mistreated, we wish others would just understand our life. We wish they would just be put in a situation to feel as we feel, hurt for our kids as we hurt. But that wish can be something we live to regret.
Chaya Leah told me that despite her husband’s chronic illness and her own overloaded life, she felt for her friend’s son (I’ll call him Moishe) age nine, who was going to stay at the shiva house every day, while his mother was sitting shiva for her father. No one had offered to take the boy after school, and so she offered to pick Moishe up from school with her own son each day of the shiva. The boys would do homework and play together. Chaya Leah would give them supper and let them stay up late until Moishe’s mother could take him home to sleep. Moishe’s mother could not find the words to express her thanks and gratitude. She said she would never forget the kindness.
A year later, Chaya Leah’s son (I’ll call him Dovid), Moishe and a third friend (Ari) were all to go to summer camp together. As the camp was quite far, the three boys were to fly together and be picked up by the camp at the airport. Chaya Leah was thrilled not to have the worry of her child travelling alone on a plane. She was hoping the three weeks at camp would give her son respite from living with his father’s illness and a break from responsibility. Going with two boys he knew helped ease any fear Dovid had of the new experience.
Just before making the final flight arrangements, Moishe’s mother called. It seemed she had a married daughter in the same city as the summer camp. She had decided to take her son and Ari to visit her daughter a week before camp. There, they would get to tour the city and have fun before camp started. She told Chaya Leah that her daughter’s place wasn’t large enough to accommodate three boys, so they weren’t able to take Dovid along with them.
Chaya Leah cried as she put her frightened son on a plane to travel alone to camp. It had taken quite a bit of convincing to get him to even go to camp, and since he was flying alone, he was frightened. She did not know what to tell him when he asked her why he couldn’t go with his two friends to Moishe’s sister house.
She had heard through the local gossips that Moishe’s mother thought Dovid was a little too active to take along on the extra trip. Chaya Leah wondered why Moishe’s mother hadn’t found Dovid “too active” for her son to spend the week of shiva at her home. Nor had he been “too active” the many times during the year when Moishe had asked to come over to play with Dovid after school.
Chaya Leah kept hearing Moishe’s mother’s words after the shiva week telling her how she would “never forget Chaya Leah’s kindness in taking her son every day of the shiva.” She kept hearing her say she’d find a way to reciprocate. And she couldn’t help but think of the expression “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Chaya Leah remembered that the tears of widows and orphans have a special place with Hashem. She remembered learning that this group’s special place came because they didn’t have security. They had no one to take care of them and they came with broken hearts. She wondered if well spouses were included in this group. They certainly fit the criteria. Did Hashem hear her tears? She hoped that someday Moishe’s mother would know how it felt to have her child rejected. She hoped that someday she too would feel this terrible pain.
(To be continued)
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