Our twin boys recently started wearing their first pair of lace-up sneakers. Unfortunately, I have yet to find time to teach them to tie the shoes. As a result, one son came home from daycare with six knots in his right shoe. I know this because it took a painfully long time, with my stubby fingernails, to undo each knot. When I asked him what happened he replied, “Jenny is the only friend in class who knows how to tie shoes. She was trying to help me.”
Our son reminds me almost daily that he is going to marry Jenny. I can clearly visualize the two children seated side by side on the floor with Jenny happily showing our son how to “tie” his shoes. With that image in mind, I began to consider how many people I have interacted with recently, since I made my divorce public (Facebook public, that is), who also wanted to help, but inadvertently pulled a Jenny and put knots in my laces.
I think it is human nature to want to help and comfort someone who is struggling. Just how to do this, however, is not necessarily instinctive and I assume this is why our sages created laws pertaining to shiva when a Jewish person dies. We can all use a little instruction sometimes regarding how to conduct ourselves. To be fair, I am absolutely guilty of making inappropriate comments to the ones I care about, hoping to make them feel better about a bad situation, but failing miserably. I still cringe when I think about what I said to a dear friend when she lost her baby several years ago. I hope that my own misfortunes have made me wiser in my dealings with others.
Each day I face battles with my spouse and bigger internal wars within myself. There are emotional issues with our children, financial struggles, and endless other problems I never imagined I would be facing. Currently I am treading water. If you sincerely want to extend a hand to me or anyone else in my predicament, I hope you will consider some of this advice:
1. For starters, please do not tell me how sorry you are, because I am not. Divorce is not always a bad thing. And regardless, pity is not constructive and the word “sorry” is so overused it retains no power. I need your strength, instead.
2. Also, try to refrain from telling me what a jerk your husband is because he refuses to take out the garbage or is guilty of some other minor transgression. I appreciate your empathy, but I do not want to speak badly of the father of my children and our situations seem vastly different.
3. Lastly, before you tell me that I am still young and/or still attractive, implication being that I might find another partner someday, please consider that this is not currently on my to-do list. By the way, it is hard to feel young and attractive when you are knee deep in the divorce process.
So what can you say to help? I have yet to find a truly satisfying response, but I do know that it is a custom when making a shiva call to not say anything until the mourner initiates conversation. In this way, the one who is suffering a loss has the opportunity to steer the conversation as they wish, speaking as much or as little as they choose. Of course I realize that there is a big difference between death and divorce, but I think that generally being a good listener and a sturdy shoulder (if you have the will) is most helpful. Just telling me that you are available if and when I need you feels good, too. Alternatively, asking if there is any way you can help does not convey pity, but rather illustrates your willingness to translate your sentiments into action.
And finally, if you have traveled to hell and have found your way back, please share you experience with me, even if it is difficult, because knowing that you have been there and survived is the greatest comfort of all. Good can come of your hardships, too.
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