Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I am writing this in a complete state of shock, not knowing what to do, too frightened to speak to anyone in my family or even to approach those “in the know” in my community.  What I thought happened only to others has now happened to me and I’m afraid I may have missed all the warning signs, which may have allowed me to get help sooner. I fear my denial may have caused us to lose our son.


Let me explain. As I was cleaning the house for Pesach, I decided to clean my son’s room, something I ordinarily do not do, as his room is his domain. For the last two years, since he turned nineteen and started college, he has drifted away from us, from his old yeshiva friends and slowly moved away from Yiddishkeit. He no longer goes to shul, and our other children told me they saw him taking off his yarmulke when he left the house and more than once getting into a car full of rough looking guys.  When my husband spoke with him about this, our son assured him that he was “just trying to find himself” and that forcing the issue at that time wouldn’t change anything. If we could not give him his “space,” he would move out.

Fearing that this would close the door between us, we stepped back and did not talk about it with him again.  But the “space” he requested only got bigger, until he was like a stranger who lived in our home. He came and went as he pleased, ate by himself and no words passed between us. It was as if he had become a ghost in our house, there, but not there.

So when I decided to clean his room for Pesach, I thought I’d just dust, vacuum and wash the curtains. When I opened the door, the first thing that assailed my senses was a strange smell, very pungent and woodsy.  At first I thought it might be a sort of incense he might have burnt in the room, but there was nothing that reflected that – nor was there any odd smelling air freshener. I began to pick up clothes that were scattered everywhere on the floor to hang in the closet, and when I opened the closet door the smell hit me so hard it made me light headed and I almost fell over.  There, on the closet floor, were bags filled with smaller bags of green leafy matter, some with pills and yet others had little bags of white powder.  There must have been over a hundred bags crowding the bottom of the closet.

Terrified, I instinctively and methodically flushed all this down the toilet. I didn’t want that stuff in my house another second. It was only after that I began to realize how great the problem was and the questions it presented made my head spin. What was my son doing? Was he, himself, a drug addict? Was he selling these drugs to others?  Was he involved with a dangerous group of people? And the worst, was he under surveillance by police, was our house being watched and would he be arrested?

That night my husband waited up for our son; his plan was to make it clear that if our son wanted to ruin his life, it was his choice but that he would not do it under our roof.  I went to bed just before midnight and hoped that my husband would find the right words to reach him, so that life could return to the way it was. Sadly, this was not the case.  Around three in the morning I heard yelling and the clattering of dishes and furniture falling. With my heart racing, I raced downstairs just in time to see my son throw his father to the floor, cursing and screaming that we had no right to ransack his room or confiscate his possessions and that he never wanted to see us again.  He grabbed his jacket and stormed out of the house.  I ran to my husband to help him up and saw a raw, red welt across his left cheek, along with tears in his swelling eye.  There were no words with which we could comfort each other; I applied a compress to the outer hurt, but the greater hurt of the heart remained bleeding and inconsolable.

Since that night, we move about mechanically, do the daily, ordinary things by force of habit and do not mention what transpired, but we have suffered a loss. Our other children know something awful happened, but do not talk about it. There is a room in our home that is as empty and dark as our lives have become. It is as if everything has come to a standstill, we breathe in slow motion and are afraid to exhale – what if the front door opens and he’s there; what if that door remains shut? How do we survive this? What do we tell family, friends and neighbors to explain his absence?

Mrs. Bluth, what will become of us, what will this do to our children?  Please help us find some peace of mind before this destroys us.

A weeping mother

Dear friend,

My heart breaks for you and your family and the nightmare you are living. The great sadness of seeing one’s child lose his way and not being able to save and protect him, often from himself, is inconceivable to loving parents. Yet, sadly, it does happen.  We do our best to raise children in the path of Torah and yiras Shomayim, yet, some children go off the derech and fall through the cracks.  We give them physical love, spiritual sustenance and unconditional acceptance and they still find the need to explore the forbidden corners and dangerous caverns so alluring and enticing to the young and impressionable, the adventurous and unfulfilled.  That need for more is an ever-present threat that lurks in every yeshiva hallway and beckons any child who is enchanted by the thrill it presents.  As parents, we must be ever vigilant to any change in our children and keep open the channels of communication, thus hopefully averting something greater.  Every child has strengths that need cultivation and weaknesses that require attention so as to keep him or her from falling victim to adverse temptations. However, even the most vigilant, loving and observant parents can miss something, some little detail that will ultimately lead to great suffering and grief.  Sometimes, in spite of doing everything right and being on guard, even the best parents fail.

You have suffered the greatest form of loss, the loss of a child who still lives, a child whom you may pass in the street but who doesn’t acknowledge your existence.  A mother’s heart cannot fathom the depths of such a loss, there is little comfort she can accept in words. It serves little good for me to look back on your son’s history when you already understand the warning signs that were in place; however, there is still much that can be salvaged.  As long as there is life, there is always hope that he will return; keep the avenues of communication open so that when he is ready, he can feel safe enough to approach you.  Try to find out where he is and keep watch from a distance, possibly sending him a message that you love him and miss him.  Hashem will help you find the right words and the right methods to get into his heart – you must never give up on your son or on yourself.  It will be very hard to do, but it is better to keep trying than to do nothing at all.

Employ the help of a young rav from an organization that works with adults who are off the derech to reach your son.  I would also highly recommend that you and your husband consider family counseling so that you can learn how to deal with your individual and collective issues, and prepare you for any and all eventualities.  You will need a strong support system to stand with as you embark on the journey to bring your son home and back to himself and his roots.  May that journey be a smooth and successful one for you, and may you and your husband yet see much Yiddish nachas from all your children.

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