Skip to main content

The thing I didn’t expect (the thing you’re hiding).

image

NOTE: One year after my brother Eli's death in 2014, I published a book about the intertwining of our lives and his struggle with schizophrenia. This post and many other writings are included, in slightly different form, in that book.
Please wait until the ride has come to a full and complete stop is now available in print and Kindle editions.


Through laughter and tears, I invite you to come share my final journey with my brother.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Know what I didn’t expect?

When I stood up a month and a bit ago to give my eulogy for my brother, and shared it with you online, I didn’t know so many other people, so many other families, were suffering, too.

Look, I’m a writer:  a shy, prickly, private person, who relates better to a keyboard than to other human beings and their eyeballs.

But after that eulogy, it was non-stop eyeballs.

Do you know how many people came up to me afterwards to tell me that they, too, had a mentally ill family member?  I don’t either.  Some were people I’d known for years.  Normal people; productive, happy, busy, hardworking, everyday kinds of people.

The thing I didn't expect (but should have) is that almost everybody has a story like this somewhere in their immediate family. Family members who were broken in the same way or a similar way to my brother Eli.

These are stories that must be told.

Stories that are hidden.

My mother took my dvar Torah for his shloshim and read it out at a ladies' meeting she's been going to for years (like, 30 years or more).

She read it and halfway through, she thought it was too long and too frum and wondered why she'd decided to read it.  And then, after she was done, there was a silence... and the woman next to her, who she had known for ages and socialized with often, started crying and said, "my son is an addict."

I think this is a special problem when it comes to our kids.  As Jews, it's like we're programmed to be proud of our kids, brag about our kids, share our nachas with the world, but also to shut right up if there's a problem.  This is why I love Avivah Werner’s blog so much, by the way… Hashem sent her a kid with Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), and she brags about him to the world.

(I honestly believe that he is reaching his potential specifically because she’s bragging about him.  She tells the world how smart and capable he is, not “retarded” at all… and you know what?  She’s right; he is smart.)

Her son is a gift, not in any sappy Pollyanna way, but because, goshdarnit, he’s a gift, like any other kid.  Avivah Werner refuses to hide a story other families might consider tragic. 

Maybe I’m guilty of hiding my kid’s story, too.  You hear a lot in the Jewish world about kids who are “off the derech,” who are no longer observant, no longer keeping Shabbos, kashrus, no longer believe what they were raised to believe.

Kids like… my son. 

My brilliant, beautiful yeshiva bochur, who is now a man and is making his own choices about how his spiritual life will play out.  Which I haven’t said much about here before… perhaps because I’m guilty of wanting to share only the nachas, and keeping the hard times to myself.

Of course, going off the derech is a far cry from a mental illness.  Really, you can’t even compare the two, though “going OTD” is considered nearly as great a tragedy in the frum world.

Which is why even though I disagree with my kid’s choices, I am still ever so grateful for this boy (okay, man) and the life he’s creating for himself.  And I’m proud of him.  Unqualifiedly proud:  not “proud despite” but “proud because” of who he is. 

He’s going into second year university, he works harder than most kids his age, he lives with his bubby (my mother) and helps her around the house.  He opens doors for old people, attends a singalong for a cancer victim, loves kids of all ages and is one of the most thoughtful people you will ever meet.

Of course, because I am me, and I love the things I love, I was very, VERY proud the day he led mincha / maariv during my brother’s shiva.  My choices and beliefs may not be his choices and beliefs, but that day, he did it out of love… and that was enough.

I want you to know that I’m not hiding my kid.  I’m proud of him.

Who does hiding help, anyway?

I never hid the fact that my brother was mentally ill, even in person, even when it made conversations awkward.  Sometimes, very, very awkward.  When you have a mentally ill relative, there’s a certain amount of chaos in your life, and anybody who’s going to be part of your life had better know about it up front. 

But the conversations around it could be hilarious… if they weren’t so tragic.

Know what’s weird? 

When you have a relative in the hospital, everybody’s concerned… until they find out that it’s a mental hospital.  (Here’s a story about a visit I had with Eli in the hospital a few years ago.)

“Oh.”

“He’s mentally ill.  He has schizophrenia.”

“Umm.”

When a relative dies, especially if you’re not particularly old, everybody’s shocked.

“Your brother died?  How old was he?”

“43.”

“Was it sudden?”  (They want to know if it was an accident or cancer, the two main things that kill people who aren’t old.)

“Not really.  He was mentally ill.  He had schizophrenia.”

“Umm.”

That “umm” at the end, that fading out, is because they have run out of things to say.  If they’re quick on their feet, they’ll bounce back with “I’m sorry,” which is absolutely the right (and perhaps only) thing to say.  But too often, all they manage is the “umm” before they start glancing around nervously.

These are stories that must be told.

Bringing our stories into the daylight.

Do you have a story you’re hiding from the world?

It I had a nickel for every father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter with mental illness whose story I have heard over the last month, I would be wealthy. 

But the truth is, I already am.  As a society, we are inevitably richer for hearing these stories and passing them around.  That way, we can help each other, support each other, remind each other that we are not alone.

I said in my dvar Torah for Eli’s shloshim that I hoped “Eli’s neshama [would] help those who still suffer; may his bright spirit and gifted mind intervene to ease the pain of others.”

It seems that his memory still is.

I love hearing these stories, and if you have one to share, I would really like to hear it. 

None of us are alone.  Please get in touch at Tzivia “at” Tzivia “dot” com.

Popular posts from this blog

לימודי קודש/Limudei Kodesh Copywork & Activity Printables

Welcome to my Limudei Kodesh / Jewish Studies copywork and activity printables page.  As of June 2013, I am slowly but surely moving all my printables over to 4shared because Google Docs / Drive is just too flaky for me. What you’ll find here: Weekly Parsha Copywork More Parsha Activities More Chumash / Tanach Activities Yom Tov Copywork & Activities Tefillah Copywork Pirkei Avos / Pirkei Avot Jewish Preschool Resources Other printables! For General Studies printables and activities, including Hebrew-English science resources and more, click here . For Miscellaneous homeschool helps and printables, click here . If you use any of my worksheets, activities or printables, please leave a comment or email me at Jay3fer “at” gmail “dot” com, to link to your blog, to tell me what you’re doing with it, or just to say hi!  If you want to use them in a school, camp or co-op setting, please email me (remove the X’s) for rates. If you just want to say Thank You, here’s a

Ancient Auction Secret: If Chinese auctions are racist, why do Jews love them so much?

Ah, Jews, Jews, Jews, Jews.  You sure do love your Chinese auctions, don’t you? It seems that even in an era of political correctness, within certain circles, this term just will not die . And frankly, I’m mortified. I’m not Chinese, but I have family who is Chinese.  Some are Korean, as well.  I guess this makes us more ethnically diverse than many Jews, but I suspect most Jewish families are moving in this direction.  Still.  Even if we don’t know a single Chinese person, we should still stop calling it that. First of all… is it actually racist to call it a Chinese auction? I figured I’d let Chinese people decide.  But when I turned to Google to find out how Chinese people feel about Chinese auctions, what I found was mostly… nothing.  Silence.  I did find some debate (presumably among non-Chinese people) over whether it was too far in the direction of political correctness to refer to these as a “silent auction” or (as in some parts of the States) a “tricky tray.”  (Ok

Hebrew/ עברית & English General Studies Printables

For Jewish Studies, including weekly parsha resources and copywork, click here . If you use any of my worksheets, activities or printables, please leave a comment or email me at Jay3fer “at” gmail “dot” com, to link to your blog, to tell me what you’re doing with it, or just to say hi!  If you want to use them in a school, camp or co-op setting, please email me (remove the X’s) for rates. If you enjoy these resources, please consider buying my weekly parsha book, The Family Torah :  the story of the Torah, written to be read aloud – or any of my other wonderful Jewish books for kids and families . English Worksheets & Printables: (For Hebrew, click here ) Science :  Plants, Animals, Human Body Math   Ambleside :  Composers, Artists History Geography Language & Literature     Science General Poems for Elemental Science .  Original Poems written by ME, because the ones that came with Elemental Science were so awful.  Three pages are included:  one page with two po