Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2001/ 12 Kislev 5762

Doubts or reservations one may have about reaching out to friends and strangers alike who are in need: From the mail bag

By Wendy Belzberg -- In a recent column I answered a letter that dealt with the protocol of how to comfort friends and family of the victims of the World Trade Center bombing. We as a nation are preoccupied with how to help along the September 11 healing process. But even in the absence of terrorism, people die, go through painful divorce and suffer serious injury. A young woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, a colleague gives birth to a child with a rare illness, or a neighbor's husband leaves his wife and two young children. This week's column further addresses any doubts or reservations one may have about reaching out to friends and strangers alike who are in need. Reprinted below is the original column and two of the many letters I received from readers. These two women unfortunately speak from personal experience.

Q: I live in a large apartment complex. One of the residents, a father of three children, was killed in the September 11th bombing. I don't personally know the widow but I feel like I want to reach out to her in some way. On the other hand, I don't want to intrude on anyone's privacy at such a difficult time…

A: Were everyone worried about respecting privacy and about intruding, a lot of anguished people would be sitting alone in their living rooms right now, neglected even by close friends. These times and circumstances are unprecedented. There are no rules. So in Emily Post's absence, let me blaze the trail: I urge you, and anyone else in a similar situation, to reach out. Write a note and slip it under your neighbor's door. Drop off fresh flowers, anonymously or not. Offer to cook a meal for the mother with 3 children. Ask, and expect nothing in return. Don't stand on ceremony. The reward will be as much yours as theirs.

Just a note to comment on the neighbor who was worried about intruding on a family's grief. I was suddenly widowed a month ago and I want people to know that this is the moment "to reach out to her in some way". All the acts of generosity and kindness that have been shown to our family are highly appreciated:

Please tell your readers that widows and orphans are particularly needful of any kind gestures. It is such a blow to lose a father and husband with no warning.

  —   Debra Baker Oliva

I congratulate you on your excellent response to the question about invasion of privacy of those in grief…I am the surviving daughter of a murdered father. Although four and one half years have passed, I always appreciate those who expressed, and continue to express kindness.

I understand that it is difficult for others to approach me; often they are afraid of unintentionally saying something hurtful or upsetting me. And yes, some rather odd ideas have been expressed. But I overlook the awkwardness of the words to embrace the kind thought…

Please, let those who ask not be afraid to approach. We appreciate it more than it is possible to communicate. It is perfectly acceptable just to say, "I'm sorry" and nothing more. The stirred emotions that may result is not the upset of being reminded of grief. That grief is with us every day. Rather it is the response of not being so isolated. This is good and healing.

  —   Marlynn Burns

Ask Wendy a question -- any question --- by clicking here.

11/16/01: Tripping out; tactics for tactlessness; Am I a hypocrite?
11/01/01: My co-religionists are proselytizing me; tragedy intruder?; meddling mama?
10/19/01: Outside world hits home; money and mommies
10/12/01: Vacation separation; Risk present for past?
09/20/01: Secular servants; Time to tie purse strings?; dog breath --- literally!
09/07/01: Too much Torah?; Name-dropping rabbi turns off worshippers
08/30/01: Jewish 'godparents'?; summer homework
08/02/01: Have wife, won't travel; 'dis' --- as in 'distant'
07/26/01: Grandparents not invited to bar mitzvah; what to do about older sister's foul mouth; nuptial narcissism
07/19/01: Bad mannered, uncouth ethnics; lookin' for love
07/05/01: Faithless Rabbi; my wife won't let me retire; I'm in relationship limbo
06/21/01: New customs for assimilated Jews?; the business of friendship; aunty is a bad role model
06/13/01: Our friends have become political traitors; Is it love?
06/06/01: Teaching kids about the Creator, when parents aren't observant; 'wonderful woman' 'fesses up about her broken engagement; How do I find a matchmaker for my 'beautiful daughter?'
05/31/01: Couple he fixed-up is in a nasty breakup; overwrought over ring
05/16/01: The gift was counterfeit; settling for the daughter; the lush and the ostrich
05/02/01: 'Jew questions' and falsifying faith; magic marker mayhem; I want kids
04/25/01: Anti-Semites everywhere?; shilling for gifts; my kid is the 'weakest link'
04/05/01: Celebrating when Passover is inconvenient; What's wrong with the name 'Melvyn,'?; Difference dilemma: Husbands and wives and Passover observance levels
03/19/01: 7-4=insensitivity?; baby showers and tempting fate; Splitsville before or after marriage?
03/12/01: Passover party-pooper; slapped by a moral dilemma
02/14/01: Human 'mutts,' getting over it, same-sex kesubas
02/08/01: Bar/bat mitzvah blues, homework he-l, from potty to potty-mouth
01/24/01: Naughty neighbor, unprofessional colleague is dead, I'm a Jew, now what?
01/15/01: Rabbis who won't; when the rules of the 'game' change; ungracious grannies
01/08/01: My kid hates Hebrew school; Stay single or abandon heritage?
01/02/01: A Jewish Grinch? Baby bigots and when grandparents call it quits
12/18/00: Babes in Chanukah Land; my husband the kvetch; bad hair marriage?
12/04/00: My niece is a no-goodnik, when lifecycle events become dangerous, Orthodox v. Reform education
11/28/00: My ex is ruining my kids' souls; the mouth that won't stop
11/21/00: Battling brothers; how to keep a nanny
11/08/00: OY VEY! my son wants to become Orthodox; kiddies should avoid family therapy
11/08/00: Rabbi v. therapist, grandparents bearing gifts, I want my son's teacher for a sister-in-law
10/24/00: Let him enlist?, 'My son the actor'? Eating with the 'help'
10/10/00:Tipsy teens, protective spouses, kosher common-sense
10/03/00: I'm not Jewish --- not that there's anything wrong with it; mezuza machlokes; when granddad has cancer
09/25/00: I can't take Rosh Hashanah! Something for nothing? My husband needs a dinner mate
09/18/00: 'My kids' Jewish education stinks', boyfriend bandit, and single mother not by choice
09/11/00: Bris brouhaha breaks my heart, LET ME SLEEP! --- and Why can't I hold a job?
09/05/00: Righteous anger, 'dissed' daughter --- and how not to make a match
08/21/00: When one spouse becomes more religious than the other; "But the cleaning lady is part of the family!"; Why He invented 9-month gestation periods
08/21/00: 'Fessing up to granny about abandoning one's people, non-kosher sis-in-law, and 'my niece is marrying a loser'
08/14/00: Marrying 'in' for questionable motivations; Should a do-gooder be reimbursed?
08/07/00: Communing with the clouds, betrothal, and banishing bosses
07/28/00: Small-city guys, self-centered siblings
07/21/00: When a child takes religion seriously, marriage obsession, and guests who just don't get it
07/14/00: Divorcing brother-in-law, uncampy kids, and a dot.comer who makes it big time
07/07/00: Hypocrites, reality checks, and the 'real estate challenged'


© 2001, Wendy Belzberg