Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I believe that I have been fooling myself into believing that I do not have a problem and, in so doing, have allowed it to grow into something much worse. My wife feels that I am over-dramatizing what has happened to our eight-year-old son but I now strongly believe that there is something mentally abhorrent going on in our son’s mind. It began about a year and a half ago, when my wife’s mother passed from COVID. My son was very close to her and she was his caretaker almost from birth, when my wife went back to work. He is our only child.
Our son, Zevi,* was an extremely bright and good-natured child, never gave us a moment’s grief. He was attentive in yeshiva, got wonderful grades and Rabbeim and teachers loved him and shared the nachas with us. Zevi had many friends and was always busy with play dates and ball games. He loved playing basketball in the hoop we installed over our garage and loved playing with the older boys on the block who would come to use out basketball hoop because they taught him to be a better player. Then COVID struck and we had to quarantine at home. Yeshiva no longer took place in the classroom but via Zoom, and Zevi lost the ability to fraternize with his school chums and the kids from the block. The basketball hoop stood dormant and unused and, as if this was not enough, his beloved Oma was no longer able to visit with him. It was difficult to maintain their closeness over the phone and after each call Zevi would break down in tears and become morose. Then Oma got sick and passed away soon after, and the phone calls stopped. I am sure that’s when things went to the dark side for him.
Zevi began fighting us on attending the Zoom classes and we often found him in a dazed state, eyes fixed on the screen but not seeing or hearing anything. My wife tried to talk to him about it but he didn’t want to talk about it. I, too, tried to reach him, because I was beginning to get the feeling that something very unhealthy was going on. However, when I expressed my fears to my wife, she brushed it away saying these were abnormal times for adults so we can only imagine what a young child is going through. However, what happened six weeks ago completely convinced me that my son was losing his grip on reality and if we didn’t do something about it, we stood to lose him too.
One night about six weeks ago, I woke up to voices speaking from my son’s room. My wife was asleep so I quietly went down the hall and stood outside his door and listened. My son was having a one-sided conversation with his grandmother. He was begging her to come back for him and take him to where she was living now. He told her how terribly lonely and miserable he was and that Mommy told him what a beautiful place Oma had gone to. Since he missed her so much and hated the place his world had become, he wanted to go with her to where she now resided. He told her he was all packed and ready to go. And that is when I entered his room, took him in my arms and told him that Oma could not come for him, that only people who died could go there. He began to scream that I was lying, that Oma would come for him. THAT SHE HERSELF TOLD HIM SO!
My wife came in at some point just before Zevi’s breakdown. Life has been a bitter pill since then. Yeshiva did open again and we thought that his being back in the classroom with his friends would change everything back to before. But it has not. He seldom gets a good night’s sleep because that’s when Oma comes to visit him. His appetite has fallen off as did his love of playing basketball. Now, all he does is watch the other kids on the block playing from his bedroom window and his once bubbly personality and bright eyes have become sullen and overcast. Mrs. Bluth, what can we do to help us reach our son or do you think we might be too late?
How terribly sad it is to see what this awful pandemic has done to humanity. But worst is to see how childhood has been stolen away from our children and the carefree and joyous adventures of childhood have been replaced by fear, loneliness and insecurity that what is at this moment can be torn away in the next. Adults have a hard enough time wondering who and what to believe, can you imagine what a young child’s thoughts are? All the years he had been taught to love his siblings and grandparents, aunts uncles cousins, and suddenly, one morning all that has been ripped away from him with a giant eraser by mask-wearing strangers. He cannot hug and kiss his bubby and zeidy, he must not go outside or be able to play with his friends. And, if he is an only child, all the worse! He is alone on his own island and sometimes, the only thread to sanity is inventing visits with Oma. In that place where only he can see her, kiss her and cry on her shoulder, he has found some solace. Then, you come and try to take this away from him too.
Your child is in need of help and you need to see to it that he gets it right away. Children process loss and confusion differently from adults, much more intensely and graphically. It is the only way they can cope and exist in the confusion and turmoil of today’s world. Your child is crying out for help in the only way he knows how and with the only being he loved and trusted and gave him comfort. But it is not a healthy outlet and will only lead to greater problems if left unattended as he grows.
Life seems to be opening and returning slowly to some semblance of normalcy. Now is a good time to address and reverse the sad direction it has taken your son. My feeling is that with professional help it won’t be long before you get much of the old Zevi back, but there will always be the insecurity, nothing is forever and to a small degree, a lingering sense of insecurity that, with help, will lessen as he gets older.
May you see much nachas from Zevi and always be supportive of him when, in the dark of night, his old fears come to call.
*Not his real name.