My daughter, Becky, had an emergency c-section nine weeks before her due date. Thank G-d, both she and the baby are recovering. The baby was immediately placed in the NICU, attached to numerous tubes and monitors, and experienced the anticipated preemie complications. I live in a different city and went in to help following the birth. When I left, I told my daughter and son-in-law that I can come back for another stint, and that they should let me know the best time. My daughter explained, “Once he is discharged, we will have to take him to many different specialists, plus we will have to feed him every two to three hours around the clock. I think right after discharge would be the best time for you to come back. It all sounds so overwhelming.”
Thankfully, their call came sooner than expected. At four weeks, the baby was maintaining his body temperature, gaining weight through oral feedings (He kept pulling out his NG tube, and the medical staff finally let him try his luck with oral feedings), and his heart rate and oxygen levels no longer dropped to a frighteningly low rate.
“He is getting discharged today,” Becky shared one Tuesday morning. “So, whenever you can come would be great!”
I was able to book a reasonable flight for the following day (thank you, Spirit Airlines!). While waiting to board my flight, I received a very sad text from my cousin.
My 90-year-old aunt, with whom I am extremely close, lost her daughter that morning. My heart tore into two sharp fragments. Thinking of my beloved aunt, a Holocaust survivor, sitting shivah for her daughter, was excruciating, and I desperately wanted to be at her side.
Part of me longs to make a shivah call to my aunt for one day during the week I am scheduled to be with Becky. After all, it is my second trip to go help them, their situation is looking up, and an emergency has come up. Besides, don’t I belong with my aunt in her time of grief? She was always there for us growing up, opening her home and heart to my widowed mother, me and my sister, with grace, cheer and love. The other part of my me feels like my daughter needs me, called out for my help, and must be my first priority.
What is your take?
I don’t blame you for feeling split in two! Two loved ones need you at the same time, and you want to be there for them both.
Presuming you’re able to fly in and out to be with your aunt for a day during the shivah week, can you ask Becky if she’ll mind? Will she be honest, or will she acquiesce while harboring resentment that you’re “abandoning her during her time of need”?
The second question I have is: Does your aunt NEED you right now, or do YOU have a need to show that you care? Does she have other family support, or is she all alone?
Based on your answers to these fundamental questions, I think you will gain clarity that will help you make your decision.
If there is a chance that Becky will be upset that you’re leaving her, my gut feeling is that her needs should be prioritized. It sounds like she has a very challenging situation, and as a mother, you want to be there for your child.
If your aunt has family support, you can show your caring in myriad ways: phone calls, cards, donations, etc. And perhaps you can visit her once shivah is over.
Often, people find that they are numb or distracted during the first week following a loved one’s passing. Then, once it’s over and real life resumes, suddenly they’re expected to stash their grief in their pocket and function normally. Perhaps, in a way, it would be even more meaningful for you to spend time with your aunt post-shivah.
However, if your aunt is alone, I think Becky would understand if you travel to see her now. I imagine that if there is no one for her to lean on during this painful stage, Becky will understand and agree that it’s important for you to go.
I wish you clarity in determining the best course of action.
And I hope your grandson grows big and strong and brings all of you much joy, and that your aunt gets the comfort she needs to carry on despite her tragic loss.
All the best,