Roots = Families
The group is supervised by Dr. Michael Tobin and has the approval and participation of Rabbi Zev Leff.
The wind is blowing incessantly as I gaze out the window. Strong and sure, it sweeps away every unattached object in its path. This wind is part of Hashem's plan for bringing on the rain. Wind and rain, so necessary to our lives here in this world, but often so misunderstood. I observed this wintry scene from my window this weekend. I saw how the wind battered the trees and shrubs outside. The wind was strong but the shrubs were secure. They had roots holding them in place. Roots that keep the trees, the flowers, and all vegetation where they were meant to be - firmly in the ground so that they'll grow and reproduce each in its own environment.
Families are not so different. When the family is intact, and the roots are deep, the winds of their surroundings can't pull them out and fling them into strange fields. For families, the roots are their homes, their familiar network of family and friends and their school and work environment. But people are not like plants. They have the ability to move and change. Sometimes the change is voluntary and the whole family must move. Yet when this happens, some of the roots are still undamaged - the family is rooted in each other. Other times, the change occurs because Hashem decided that that is how it should be, and then even the one bit of root that is left - the family - is uprooted from everything familiar to it.
How does a woman feel about leaving her former home, her job, her community and moving in with her new husband and his children? How does a man take in a new wife to mother his children and to possibly raise her children as well? How can the children on both sides accept a new family situation? Someone will have had to be uprooted. The pain, uncertainty, the feeling of loss or abandonment can be excruciating for some or all members of this new family unit. New roots need to be formed so that this new family can survive. How?
For a new family unit to become established, great care and sensitivity is needed to nourish it so that it will grow into a strong entity and all its members will benefit. It is well known that this is easier said than done. Very often, it's the immediate surrounding community and perhaps extended family members that can make or break this new family.
Consider these examples:
Needless to say, her strength was tested to the limit. Catering to the needs and intricacies of this large, new family was demanding enough, but it could have been less stressful had the extended family of grandparents come to her aid. Instead, this is what Miri tells: "My husband's eldest daughter married a lovely young man two months after I came into the family. My husband's first set of in-laws constantly complained that I wasn't doing enough to help the new bride. They complained about me to all the younger children so that all of them developed a strong dislike towards me. But the worst incident happened as I stood near the bride under the chupah. His first wife's mother positioned herself right behind me and cried out the name of her deceased daughter over and over again causing great embarrassment to me and to my husband. And no one dared come to my rescue.
• Shifra married a widower with three grown children and two teenagers. The teenagers were open to the idea of a stepmother but the grown children refused to accept her. Shifra had no support from anyone including the new community she moved into. Neighbors actually talked about the former wife as if she was still alive and could find no way to relate to the new wife, totally ignoring her existence. She was made to feel very uncomfortable. (Conversations about the former wife or husband are completely acceptable and natural but should be balanced with a healthy curiosity about the new parent as well.)
• Rina was divorced with 3 small children. She married a divorcee with 3 older children. Rina's children frequently came home from school crying that they were looked upon as 'different' from the other kids at school. Even the teachers treated them differently. Instead of making them feel loved and equal to everyone else, they were made to feel rejected and atypical.
• And finally there's Ruthy who questions: "When you hear of a wonderful next-door neighbor who takes upon herself the gigantic responsibility of cooking, cleaning, shopping, nursing, bathing, and possibly eradicating the lice of her neighbor's children's hair, people will react with 'What a tzadekes! Such a special woman! How wonderful that this family has such an amazing neighbor!' My question is, when I do these things and more for my new children, I'm looked upon as the selfish, evil stepmother. Why? I didn't ask to be a stepmother. That's what Hashem gave me. Why is there so much agmat nefesh from strangers who don't even know me?"
Our support group addresses these and
many other problems and issues that emerge in new families. We listen, we
laugh, we cry and we understand what each man, woman, and child
experiences. But most of all, we learn how to respond to others who don't
understand what our life is like now. There are women in our group who are
recently married or remarried as well as those who have been managing this
new life for many years. There is so much to learn from each other. Our
goals are all the same. To plant roots. Roots that will be strong and firm
so that our new family will succeed in being a warm haven of love and
understanding for all its members.
A We often hear this from people who are used to “helping others”. But we’re all human and as difficult as it may be, no one is immune from “life”.
The age or relationship to the deceased is not the issue but rather the emotional connection, be it a positive or negative one. The loss of a loved one always involves strong feelings, the main ones being: sadness, anger, guilt, depression, regret, remorse. There can be others as well.
Bereavement counseling gives the mourner an opportunity to express these feelings in the presence of a person who has no other role in their lives. You can express all your feelings. You can cry or just sit quietly and think and feel. You can reminisce and talk about the deceased, if you like. Or you can talk about what you’re feeling and what you miss most about them. You can talk about the legacy they left you or how angry you are that they didn’t take better care of themselves. You can talk about how you took on the responsibility of caring for the deceased and how none of your siblings appreciate it. You can talk about how any hope for having the kind of relationship you would have wanted with the deceased is now impossible.
You can discuss the guilt that you didn’t do enough or the relief/guilt that you can now have more time for yourself. You may be angry that others in the family don’t seem to be mourning as you are.
These are just some of the issues that can arise. The agenda is yours and the counselor is there to help you move through the grieving process, whatever that entails for you. It doesn’t bring back the loved one but the literature has shown that it helps to express those deepest feelings in the presence of another person. You can say what you like with no fear of offending, burdening or boring.
So, be kind to yourself. Make the
appointment, it’s no shanda to seek help when it can make your life easier
and ease the sorrow of your loss.