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Do We Share Sad News and if so, how?

Recently someone very dear to us in our community passed away suddenly after a car accident. When I found out about the news via an email that arrived in my inbox, I struggled with whether or not to relay the news to my sons.

As my sons were each very close to this man over the years, their hearing the news would no doubt upset them. My first instinct was to let them hear the news from someone else. Unfortunately, bad news travels fast. Two of my sons live in the New York area, two live here in Los Angeles, and one lives in Israel.

And yet, and yet. I thought what if they find out in an abrupt manner from a stranger? Or what if they don’t find out until after the funeral? I knew that there would be several memorials held – one on the East Coast and another in Israel. A video hook-up was held here in LA during the East Coast set of eulogies.

So I ended up calling a few of my sons and telling them slowly. One of my sons told me afterward that he appreciated my telling him the news, but he felt I said it too slowly and gradually. He said he got overly frightened and felt that it was not necessary.  But he moved right into “Thanks Mom, I will go to the funeral. I’m glad I know. You had to tell me….”

Another son was so upset when he heard the news that his knee jerk response was anger and denial. “Ma, why do I have to hear this now? I can’t stand this!” He was clearly very upset and felt safe letting his sadness expressed as anger out on his mother. Soon, he also calmed down and moved forward into visiting the family, writing a letter and also attending the funeral.

And so it went with each of my sons. One son already had heard the information from one of his brothers, and another son heard about it from his wife.

At the end of the day, it’s not about us and how our family hears the news. It’s about the family. My first thought when hearing about the sudden passing of this man who was a Torah giant, brilliant man and the kindest person you’d ever meet, was “Oh my gosh – that poor wife and children…how does someone handle such news?”

Of course there is no “good” way to share sad news. And sometimes it’s best to say it quickly and abruptly. Other times maybe more gradually. I know of a case where someone heard bad news in a gradual way – as she was told that her dad was in an accident and later told that he didn’t survive the accident. She told me she guessed even before the words were said.

It’s important to be sensitive to others when sharing bad news -and maybe sometimes it’s best not to share it. Why be the one to pass around bad news if there’s no actual benefit to the person hearing? If they don’t know the people or if the news will ruin their day, why tell them?

Sometimes we feel as if we want to unburden ourselves and share something sad, and in those cases maybe it’s best to check our motivations and put off sharing. Praying, writing, and planning how to help the family may be a better initial reaction.

It’s certainly not black and white, right or wrong. These things are in the grey areas. We don’t know what is the right way.

We don’t want to bury our noses in the sand and pretend bad things don’t happen. We want to be able to be there for our friends and community and we know others want the same thing. But we only hope that we are gifted with sensitivity and wisdom when we have unhappy information to pass on.

I welcome any and all opinions on this matter.

Trying On Shoes


The other day I gained a slight glimpse of what it feels like to be in  other people’s shoes. My husband and I attended several wedding this past week which was at times exhausting, given my not-so-distant (3 1/2 weeks ago!) surgery on my ankle.  But it definitely was exciting to get out and see people. The fresh air, the drive to the venues with the car windows wide open, the chats with old friends, the expanse of the hotels where I scooted around on my “knee rider,” and the sitting and dining with good friends at these events, were huge boosts to my mood. Hey, after being home almost 24/7 for so many months, I welcomed the change at these friends’ happy occasions.

At the first wedding, which was in a large Sheraton hotel, my husband and I glided (well I glided, he walked) through the lobby towards where the ballroom was. Oh. Steps.

No problem, I thought. Only 3 steps. I’ve done those before. It’s just a matter of angling my scooter and edging up one step at a time. As long as the steps are piled close together without too much thickness, (hey, ever thought someone could be analyzing the construction of steps?), I was fine.

But what we found on the other side of the steps, stumped me — and my husband.

Escalators. Nope. Those won’t work.

So we went around the back, found a ramp, and got back to where we started. After some asking around (should have done that to begin with!), we found the elevators which took us to the handicap accessible lobby, which took us by ramp to the ballroom.


Ding. Ding. Ding. Bells went off in my head.

This is what people who have disabilities go through all the time. They can’t just go, climb and attend events. They have to plan out their entrance to wherever they are going. When the place is familiar, they already know what to expect, but when the place is new (as this hotel was for my husband and I), they need to seek out the handicap accessible ramps, elevators and other accommodations.

It ain’t easy.

My aha moments continued as I went to the next wedding, the following evening. This one was at a Hilton hotel that I’d been to in the past, so I knew that the parking structure’s elevator took us straight up to the ballroom area with the foyer and lobby outside the ballroom.

But then I remembered the restrooms. They were downstairs. I recalled using them at past weddings there, and going down the elegant winding staircase  in my high-heeled shoes toward the restrooms.

I decided then and there I was going to ask where the elevators to go down were. I looked around and saw that the elevators where we arrived had a button to go down and the only thing was that one had to then navigate around the bend back to the restrooms, once downstairs.

In the end,  I sat mostly in my seat at that wedding, and enjoyed the people at my table. Another realization. People with disabilities don’t get to move around freely as much, without depending on someone to push them around in a wheelchair, or bumping around in a scooter like I have.

The third wedding this week was when the aha moments of the past few nights were sealed in my mind forever.

My husband and I arrived at the synagogue where the wedding was to take place. This was a large, elegant building with towering staircases (see where this is going?) that were white, marble, and very beautiful structurally.

Beautiful, but impossible to navigate.

As we strolled (I scooted; my husband walked) down the street and arrived at the front of the building, we saw the 30 stairs looming large in front of me. We looked to both sides of the building to find a ramp.

No ramp on either side.

We asked the guard who was standing at the staircase and she frowned,

“Oh there’s a ramp over there,” she said, pointing to the area near the parking lot where we had left our car. “But that’s taken over by the catering truck. You can’t go there.”

Uh. Oh. Should we just go home? This doesn’t make sense.

My husband is not one to give up on these matters, and so he went to the caterer at the ramp and asked what to do.

“Well, it’s really dangerous to come through here,” he admitted. “Why don’t you try in the back entrance where the kids’ playground is? I think there’s a ramp to get in the backway.”

We thanked the guy, and went down the alleyway, through the parking lot, (I bumped; my husband walked) toward the playground area. We opened the gate (whew. It was opened), and there were 2 steps to go downward. No problem. My husband helped me edge downward with the scooter.

Then came a short pathway to go toward the door, and a 3-step staircase (Nope, not a ramp. Oh well..) to get into the ballroom.

Mission accomplished.

Seldom do we get to try on other people’s shoes and situations. We are fortunate to know and understand ourselves, what makes us tick, how to label our own feelings and deal with them. That’s a pretty big task if we want to be self-aware and conscious in our actions.

But other people? We can only know what they are feeling by listening to what they tell us, watching carefully and asking questions if we are unsure. Other than that, it is presumptuous to think we know what someone else is going through. It’s insensitive to think we know what others are thinking, because we don’t. It’s silly to think we can “understand” what others’ experiences are. We can’t really do that.

Our Jewish Sages teach us, “Don’t judge another until you are in his place,” because you just never know anything until you are exactly in their shoes. And let’s face it; even if you experience something similar to them, it will never be exactly the same.

Top 10 Tips for Visiting Sick People


Visiting the sick is an art, not a science. In Hebrew, we call this act of performing any kindness to family of sick people– bikur cholim.  Recently, I have been laid up in bed for many months, due to a broken ankle, and I have been the recipient of this mitzvah (good deed) by so many people in our community. People have been generous beyond my wildest imagination. Although I performed bikur cholim before I broke my ankle, I don’t think I did so with such skill and grace as those who performed the mitzvah for me. And so, I’ve compiled a list of 10 “best practices” for mastering the art of bikur cholim based on my experiences as a recipient. Just as one must master certain skills in order to produce a true work of art, so too one must master certain practices in order to fulfill the mitzvah of bikur cholim in its highest form.

In creating this Top Ten Tip List, I am speaking to myself as much as to the reader:

  1. Call, text or email the sick person before visiting to ask when is a good time to visit; it’s not a good idea to pop in without prior mention.

  2. When others are also present, refrain from side conversations without involving the person who is sick.

  3. Unless the sick person asks, do not talk about yourself or your own life; rather, talk about something you know is of interest to the sick person.

  4. Your presence is what is most valued by the sick person, even more than cards or flowers.

  5. Ask open ended questions (i.e., “How are you feeling today?”) to encourage the person to talk if they are in the mood; do not ask details about their illness.

  6. Speak using empathy and compassion; avoid speaking platitudes.

  7. If you are running errands such as going to the market, it’s nice to call and offer to pick up something; you can keep a running tab on how much you’ve spent so the patient can pay you back.

  8. Ask first before sending over food; coordination (regarding time and food sent) is important to not cause undue stress for the patient. If they tell you they are fine with whatever you send, then go with their wish.

  9. A brief friendly phone call is always appreciated; most important is to listen to what the person has to say and help the patient feel validated. You can offer to relieve a young mom of the kids for a few hours, by taking them to the park.

  10. If you say you will do something, follow through with it; if something comes up, let the person know because they are likely relying on you to fulfill your word.

After all is said and done, we strive to do our best when it comes to any mitzvah, especially visiting the sick. And if we aim to do bikur cholim artfully and purposefully, then G-d will help us achieve our goals. May all the sick and injured be cured by the ultimate Doctor, and may there be no more need for bikur cholim.

Photo credit: M. Hendeles

UnBottled Thoughts

I have some thoughts inside me that need to be released or “unbottled.” These are thoughts tangential to my usual topic of being a grandmother – a “bubby” in Yiddish.  Since I am a grandmother who writes, I find the theme of  “writing about writing” to be quite intriguing. Recently,  I read a brilliant post by one talented  writer/blogger of that topic on her  site.  I agree with her premise, and I’d like to express  my own bottled thoughts (soon to be unbottled) regarding her post.

In her essay, Ms. Bottledworder  posits that writers are different in their sensitivities and insecurities from other professionals or tradesmen. For example, when a writer writes an essay, he throws his whole self into the process. Whether or not he writes about himself, he is allowing himself – his voice if you will – to be out there, to be vulnerable to others. Continue reading

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