Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

Is there such a thing as delayed grieving? And if there is, how long does it last? I am in such a deep depression and in so much pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week without any let-up. I have spoken to two people about it, but no one seems to understand my plight. And this is what brings me to you, hoping against hope you can find the remedy for the turmoil I’m in. I guess I should go back to my childhood and work myself up to date so you might be able to spot where I went wrong and tell me what I can do to restore my life to its prior equilibrium.


I was born sixty-nine years ago into a family that was loving and nurturing and I was the oldest of four, having two younger sisters and my brother was the baby of the family. We were modern Conservidox by today’s standards, but it was my mother who kept most of the religious structure in our home, my father, not so much, but he did the perfunctory rituals to please her and keep the peace. As far back as I can recall, my mother was my best friend and staunchest supporter. Even after the other kids were born, she deferred to me over them and we were tighter than best friends. She got through my teen years and put up with all the craziness that came with them and all my friends told me how lucky I was to have a mom that they wish they had. I was glad that all of them felt so at home in my house and I never lacked for friendship. But many a time it annoyed me when my mom tried to be ‘one of the girls.’

Things changed somewhat in my college years in that I preferred to be with friends away from my home and I really did not appreciate my mother trying to fit in with my friends when they did visit my home. I tried to be careful of her feelings when I told her I wasn’t little anymore and that I had different, more mature friends to spend time with, but that we could still find some time to catch up with each other. I really think she was okay with this as she said she understood and wouldn’t try to intrude on my social life. The years passed, I met the guy of my dreams and we got married and moved a train ride away from my childhood home.

Between a whole new circle of married couple friends and having three children while holding down a job, it completely obliterated any chance for me to see mom, but she seemed to be in my home regularly when needed, to babysit, take care of a sick child so I didn’t miss work, and I thought that was just as good as being together for our special times. And so the years slipped by, my kids grew up and my oldest daughter cried when she went off to college, but not because she would be homesick for us, she was so destroyed at being away from her grandmother. When I asked her how come she would miss her grandmother more than us, her answer floored me. “Who do you think was always there to hug me after school, do homework with me, comfort me when I had problems and care enough to come and do this every day, in snow and bad weather and in the heat of the summer, while you were too busy? Bubby was there for all us kids and we, all three of us, love her to the ends of the earth and back, so please take good care of her for me for when I get home.” I was both hurt and shocked at that little farewell speech and put it in the back of my conscience where I put all hurtful things, chalking it up to a young, ungrateful kid who doesn’t realize who’s paying her bills.

My life continued as before, my mom still trudging to care for my two kids at home and I thought life was back to normal. I didn’t notice that she was walking with a bit of a limp, nor did I take note that she had lost quite a bit of weight, until my younger sister called me one day to say mom couldn’t make it to go to my house to be there to make supper for my two teenagers. I asked her why and she told me that mom needed to go to the doctor because she passed out just as she was leaving the house. My sister stayed with her as she underwent a barrage of tests which came back positive for cancer, and the prognosis was not good. I was at a loss for what to say, so I lamely asked my sister why my mom didn’t call me, that I would have come. “Would you? Really, really would you have stopped and dropped all your important meetings just to take care of her like she’s done for you and your children all these years?” And then she hung up on me and I was left holding a silent phone to my ear for the next five minutes. But, as always I managed to place this into the burgeoning dark closet in my brain and thought my sister was being mean and hurtful to me.

Mom passed away three months later. At the funeral my children were inconsolable, weeping and carrying on, but I felt nothing, I couldn’t muster a tear but kept a tissue to my eyes to appear as if I was crying. I looked at the plain pine box which held the remains of the woman called “mom” and could not illicit any emotion. It was only after we returned from the cemetery that all of my kids mourned my mom more than I could. During the shiva they told everyone who came, that they had lost the bubby who was their everything. I have to say this hurt deeply and I couldn’t squeeze it into the lockbox of my brain.

For weeks now, I couldn’t shake this burden of guilt I was feeling, the one that made me feel not so much like weeping and mourning the mother I had not appreciated during her life, but more like a heavy guilt, that I never could make time to love her, but was always ready to take her love. Now, these many months later I wake up with an overpowering need to cry and the pain is greater than anything I ever felt. I think I finally understood how much I missed her and that my children cannot forgive the way I treated her, and they are right. I can’t forgive myself. So here I sit, writing to you as the tears fall on my tablet. Please help me find a way to make peace with the horrible person I am and tell me if I am doomed for all eternity to wallow endlessly in guilt and bitterness.


Dear Friend,

I truly feel sorry for you, your pain is palpable. To answer your first two questions, yes, grief can be delayed when shock and confusion are to the forefront, and the onset of grief, however late, is as debilitating and painful as it would have been when your mother passed. How long it will last is an entirely individual thing. But I can tell you that you must let it run its course and only then will you be able to move forward.

It saddens me more to see the neglect and the hurt your mother endured, but her love for you was so great she found ways to justify your indifference. She super-imposed that love onto your children and they became more like her children than her grandchildren. That her nurturing love found a new home gave her the excuse she needed to go on, and that love was returned to her every moment she spent with your children. So, essentially, you were not needed to supply this for her, she received it in spades from your children who recognized and appreciated that love and reciprocated it back to her. So in essence, and maybe not in a perfect way, everyone was happy and satisfied. Except for one thing… that dark closet in your brain where your conscience lives. And that is what has finally caught up with you now.

So go ahead and grieve, albeit belatedly, and come away a better, more loving, less self-centered person than before. And perhaps, one day, if Hashem sees fit to bless you with grandchildren, you may honor and perpetuate your mother’s example onto them and know what it means to give pure love and get unconditional love in return. HaMakom Yenachem…


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