In last week’s column I published a letter from a 76-year-old widow concerned about her future. She wanted to know whether she should sell her house in Brooklyn and move in with her daughter in Queens. She felt lonely living alone, but was concerned about being a burden to her children, although both her daughter and son-in-law assured her that would not be the case.
She complained that although she had five children, four lived out-of- town, so it was only this one daughter in Queens upon whom she could rely. Time lay heavily on her hands. She had no special skills that she could employ, nor could she entertain any hope of finding a job, so she spent most of her day sitting in her house watching the clock.
Finally, she wanted to know if she should consider remarriage, and what the chances were of a woman her age with some health issues finding an appropriate shidduch. Would it make sense for her to consult shadchanim? Should she even bother to try?
Before responding to her letter, I would like to thank the many people who e-mailed me regarding her situation. There were offers of help and even shidduch suggestions. I passed all this information on to the widow; nevertheless, I acknowledge it publicly, for I believe that this outpouring of concern is a beautiful indication of the chesed that prevails among our people.
Ours is a generation that is beset by many problems – everyone has his own “pekel” (load) to carry. Normally, people burdened by “pekelach” give themselves license to be indifferent to the plight of others, rationalizing, “I have my own troubles… leave me alone.” But that which is normal for others is not normal for us. Baruch Hashem, in our Torah community, such apathy is shunned. The teachings of chesed of our father Abraham have taken deep root in our hearts and are engraved on our souls for all eternity.
The following is my reply:
My Dear Friend:
To be left an alman or almanah (widower or widow) is a painfully trying test, but as in all of life’s tests, we have choices. Depending upon the choices we make, we can either fail or pass. In your case, you have the choice of focusing on your widowed state, bemoaning the passing of your husband, and giving vent to resentment and anger, or you can say, “Baruch Hashem for the good long years we had together, the opportunity that Hashem granted me to be at my husband’s side and help him in his final days.”
You have the choice of feeling sorry for yourself – lamenting that only one of your children resides in New York or you can say, “Baruch Hashem, all five of my children are happily married and blessed with families, and Baruch Hashem, I have a daughter in Queens, who welcomes me into her home.”
As for your children who reside out of New York, instead of saying, “How terrible they are so far away,” you can say, “Baruch Hashem! What a wonderful opportunity they offer me… I can visit Eretz Yisrael as well as vibrant Jewish communities here in the States where my other two children reside.”
You have a choice of focusing on your lack of skills, or you can say “Baruch Hashem, I’m not beholden to anyone and don’t have to work for a living. I have the privilege of devoting myself to works of chesed and tzedakah, and can use my time meaningfully.” You have the choice of focusing on your health issues and viewing yourself as physically limited, or you can say “Baruch Hashem I don’t suffer from any ailments that prevent me from leading a productive life.”
You can focus on your loneliness, or you can say, “Baruch Hashem, I can manage. I thank Hashem for the good years I had, and I will devote the remainder of my life trying to bring simcha to others.”
I could point out some more considerations, but I’m certain that you’ve gotten the picture. Whether you live in contentment or bitterness will largely depend on how you look at things – whether you consider your cup half-full or half-empty, whether you focus on what you do or don’t have, whether you see darkness or light, blessing or curse, it’s all in your hands.
Now, as to your specific questions: 1) Should you sell your house and move in with your daughter? In my youth, I was privileged to be privy to the counsel offered by my beloved father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l. I particularly recall the widows who consulted him with the very same question that you posed: “Should I move in with my children?” To all of them, my esteemed father would say “No….go for a visit, go for Shabbos, but as long as you can maintain your own home, do so.”
Then my father would add in Yiddish. “G-t zol uphiten:” G-d should protect all parents from depending upon their children. Parents should always be in a position to give rather than take. It’s good to visit, but then its good to return to your own home.
Having said all this, you might consider selling your home and buying one within walking distance of your daughter. You must do that cautiously -investigate the neighborhood in which your daughter resides and determine whether you could be happy there. Are there people living there who are of similar backgrounds with whom you can socialize? Are there support and chesed groups you can join? Is shopping for your daily needs within walking distance?
You don’t want to ask your daughter to pick up things or drive you for all your needs. If you are accustomed to going to shul on Shabbos, investigate whether the neighborhood shul is within walking distance. I also suggest that you take a good look at your present neighborhood, the people that you have come to know over the years. You might discover that there are many who would be happy to invite you for a Shabbos seudah and you might also find that there are other widows in your neighborhood with whom you can get together and make arrangements for joint Shabbos seudos.
Finally, regarding consulting a shadchan -there is certainly no harm in doing so, but as you make inquiries, do so cautiously. Your attitude should be – if someone worthwhile is recommended, good, if not, it’s also good. Do your hishtadlus – due diligence, and trust that the rest is in the Hands of Hashem.
May I also suggest that you visit us at our Hineni Center at 232 West End Avenue? It is best that you come on a Thursday evening at 8:30 when I give my shiur. You can then speak to our shidduch counselor, Phyllis Blackman, and of course, I will be happy to discuss your concerns with you as well.
May Hashem help you find strength and wisdom to live your years with meaning and dignity.