I recently lost my 23 year old son to an unintended drug overdose. My family is all beyond consolation. He did not "appear" to have a drug problem. He was living with his family post-college, in which he did well. He never pushed himself or really had goals, but he was so bright he always excelled. He held down a full time job after graduation, but he was caught 6 months ago stealing medication and other things in the home. He constantly lied to everyone. He started taking substances in his room and appearing "totally wasted". I started to get into conflicts with him over this not being acceptable. I consulted experts about what I should do. For his stealing I wanted him to show remorse and take responsibility for his actions by helping people less fortunate than himself - I wanted him to do do volunteer work at a hospice for people dying of AIDS, to maybe lessen his selfish self-destructive behavior, and because I thought he might learn what the fruits of drug abuse are. My wife said I was too severe on her baby,and a hospice was depressing.
I wanted him to get in touch with Jewish culture and values. My wife laughed at me.
I arranged for him to see a psychiatrist, but she did not learn enough about him in 6 months to help him.
I am furious at my wife for undermining my efforts to help him. No one will know if my efforts would have have helped. But maybe they would.
My wife refuses to say she might bear any responsibility for what happened because she sabotaged my efforts to help him.We have been married 35 years and have one living child, a 21 year girl who is much that our son was not. More pious than me. A scholar who hopes to go soon to medical school. She studied Hebrew and Yiddish and speaks to family in Yiddish. I know that I am just so angry, etc.
Am I being unfair to my wife? Does it make any difference if she takes responsibility for prior actions? Unfortunately, it was never her nature to own up to the things she did.
What should I do now?
Oy. How sad and upsetting, what a tragedy, to lose a beloved son at such a young age! It makes it more difficult, I am sure, that not only do you not have the closure of a long life, you do not seem, in this case, to have the satisfaction of a well-lived life. In a moment, I'll move to what seem to me to be Jewish aspects of this question to which I can respond, but I don't want to move too quickly from simply expressing my commiseration with you, your wife, your daughter, and the extended family for all that you are suffering right now. In times of challenge and suffering, I think the shiva period teaches us, we need to sit with our challenge and suffering, recognize it for what it is, and only then move to grappling with it.
That is also the first part of my answer to you. In a tragedy like this, one instinct is to try to lay blame, on ourselves and others, to obsess over what we could have done differently, and to point at those who either stopped us or who themselves neglected to act. I don't think that is always inappropriate, as I will mention in a moment, but in a case like this, it is often done prematurely. The first thing to remember is that you are hurting, and hurting for a fully understandable reason. None of us likes to hurt, and so we often try to distract ourselves from the hurt by changing the topic. My first piece of advice-- and I think it is a Jewish piece of advice, embedded in the wisdom of the laws of mourning, which teach us to focus on our mourning, not away from it-- is to mourn.
Mourn by remembering your son, his wonderful qualities and his flaws. Mourn the choices he made (and remember-- this started with choices he made) and, if you so incline, mourn the decision by the True Judge to let those choices lead to an accidental overdose. Mourning, as I understand it, doesn't involve assigning responsibility for sad events, it involves seeing those events in their full sadness, and recalling the lost child in his fullness, fortunate and less fortunate qualities alike.
That will be painful, and for a long time. In that pain, we need to resist lashing out at others. I don't mean that you have to ignore the disagreements between you and your wife-- I'll say something about those in a minute-- but that you should try to be sure that you don't channel your natural and understandable hurt into that discussion. Assume with me, for a moment, that your wife was completely wrong on these issues, and you force her to see how wrong she was-- will that bring your son back? There may be good reasons to hash out with your wife what happened, but be sure you are doing it for those good reasons, not as a way of relieving your pain.
I read a book once about losing a child, and it had built a perspective from interviews with multiple bereaved parents. They stressed how permanent the pain was, although it receded with time, like all such pain. They stressed the strain it can put on the best of marriages as well, and you should tread carefully as you go forward, lest you react hastily and permanently damage yet another relationship in your life.
Before you go there, I would suggest, ask yourself what the value in going there is. You have your own complex feelings about your son's passing-- you worry that you should have done more, it sounds like, and are angry with those who got in your way, and led to this outcome. That is a fully understandable reaction, but, again, will it bring him back? If not, will hashing it out help avoid having this happen again (are you worried this might happen again)? If not, why do it?
It sounds, truth be told, as if there are tensions between you and your wife independent of this tragedy. It sounds as if you do not feel that she takes your views seriously, and acts in ways that you think negatively impact your life (particularly in this case). Those are important marital issues, but I fear that addressing them under the shadow of this tragedy could muddle the issues so fully that you would have no chance to address them with the calm and openness necessary for them.
In times of trouble, ideally, we come closer to each other, not drift further apart. I hope you, your wife, your daughter, and your family find solace. I hope that solace opens a space for you to find each other, and to build or rebuild relationships of caring, trust, and mutual respect. Nothing can take away the sting of your loss-- other than the comfort of the Creator, which I wish all of you-- but I hope that you, together, find a way to carry on productively and fruitfully, and to even return to find happiness in each other, in your daughter, and in God's world.
Baruch Dayan Haemet. Even in the worst of times, we praise Gd as the Judge of Truth. In this case, it seems that the quest for truth may be interfering with the Jewish goal of Shalom Bayit, peace in the home or peace between spouses. In trying to place blame, in trying to create responsibility the conflict may be exacerbated. I wish your family comfort and strength in this very challenging time.
For most people, grief is a complicated process that includes powerful emotions. You did not mention if your family sat shivah or if anyone is regularly attending minyan and saying Kaddish for him. Many people find that by feeling obligated to regularly attend services, they find themselves in a group of caring people, many of whom have also lost relatives. By observing the Jewish mourning traditions, we may find consolation and comfort through community, ritual and Gd.
Grief is not a linear process. It does not necessarily go clearly stage by stage, although such models help us to conceptualize it. We may have good days and bad days or more accurately pleasant moments and difficult moments. Allowing ourselves time to grieve is not a bad thing! The challenge in this case seems not only to be grief, but your relationship with your wife. It seems that previous communication issues in your relationship have grown larger with the loss of your son. When couples lose children, challenges in their relationship frequently become larger, and if not addressed, can continue to fester.
Only you can answer if you are being unfair to your wife. Will it change your feelings for her, with her or towards your son if she “takes responsibility”? You say it is was “never in her nature to own up to things”. You write this as if it is an old problem. Has it only begun to bother you? Do you take responsibility for your actions at home? Could you be projecting your own challenges on to her? Sometimes when we are angry at ourselves, we can place blame on others? You wish that you could have done more for your son and so perhaps, you are angry at your wife that she, too did not do “enough”. The challenge is, that sometimes, nothing we do is “enough”. You and your wife might have done everything “right”, and your son might still have overdosed. Holding yourself and your wife responsible may only cause both of you more pain.
It seems to me that it would be helpful for you and your wife to discuss these issues more openly in some sort of counseling or therapeutic setting. Have you spoken to your rabbi? Have you considered couple’s or marital counseling? Even if your wife does not want to join you in therapy, perhaps you might consider going alone. It seems like you might benefit from having a safe space to express your emotions.
I am also a little concerned about your language regarding your daughter. For her sake, please do not overwhelm her with expectation. That can be a very heavy burden for one who has lost a sibling. Allow her to set and reach her own goals, not yours.
In short my advice to you: 1. Don’t try to blame yourself or your wife for missed and lost opportunities. 2. Find appropriate therapy/counseling (whether rabbinic or secular) for you and your family. 3. Allow yourself to grieve, without placing blame on yourself or others.
I cannot imagine your pain and your anger at the loss of your son. I appreciate how this creates a rift between you and your wife. While I also understand your desire for a Judaic response to what happened, but since this forum does allow for me to hear both from you and your wife, it is not possible to give a proper response.The loss of a child places a great strain on any marriage. My experience as a rabbi suggests that what might be helpful is for you and your wife to seek counselling by a therapist who is skilled in working with people who have lost children. I also recommend that you seek a support group for parents who have lost children. Please accept my condolences on your unimaginable loss.
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