Why I Tell My Kids About Tragedies
On Saturday night, I boarded a plane only hours after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had gone missing. I was out of town for a couple days and less connected to news than usual. Once I had safely landed from my return flight on Monday afternoon, my husband asked if I had heard about the missing plane. I began to follow the story more closely with the rest of the world. Then, I read an article which put names, faces, and stories to a handful of those anonymous passengers, turning a mystery into a very real tragedy.
Yesterday morning upon waking, I was confronted with even more tragic news. A wonderful woman named Rashi Minkowicz, a Chabad rebbetzin I had met only a few weeks earlier, suddenly passed away while she was sleeping at 37 years young the night before, leaving behind a husband and eight children. In the several hours that I got to hang out with Rashi before the talk that she hosted me for in North Fulton, GA last month, I was wowed by her. She had house full of kids with a revolving door for guests and students. She was open-minded towards people of all walks of life and respected different pathways within Torah observance. She gave me a tour of the new mikvah they had recently built which she was so proud of. Rashi was a straight shooter and one of those dynamos that must not have slept very much because of all she was doing. She packed more good deeds into those 37 years, than many of us probably do in a lifetime.
Yesterday, my eight year old daughter saw me reading an article about her and asked what happened. There are probably many parents who would NEVER discuss such events with their children. They’d never tell them about planes that simply disappear or mothers that simply don’t wake up, but I’ve never shied away from discussing sad events with my kids for one simple reason: how will they know how to cope with suffering if I never show them how I do?
Whenever I let them know about something tragic that has happened, I explain how heartbroken I am, but I remind them that I trust in Hashem’s (God’s) plan nevertheless. I tell them that while there is much sorrow in this world, I live with hope that what you see is not what you get. That everything ultimately has meaning. That our lives and actions are interconnected and not random. That beneath the very real and raw pain that we will all eventually face, there is goodness coming from the Source of all things.
My parents gave me everything as a kid. Love, support, attention, education, opportunities. But there was one thing they didn’t know how to give because they had never gotten it from their own parents: a bigger purpose to existence. And when tragedy struck unexpectedly when I was eight years old and a classmate and her brother were murdered by their father, I had nothing to cling to. I learned that remaining distracted from these bigger questions was how most people coped, until of course a tragedy struck and the distraction was temporarily interrupted. Then back to more distraction.
I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t give my own children as many opportunities as my parents provided me with. My husband and I had our kids younger, had more of them, spend lots of money on Jewish day school tuition, and starting Jew in the City was not the best decision financially-speaking. However, although my kids have not gone on as many vacations as I did and have not had as many extra-curricular activities as I had, I believe I am giving to them the greatest gift a parent could give a child: trust in God.
Like I said to Rashi twenty-three days ago as we drove from her house to the event, I speak to my kids candidly about tragic news because although, God willing, I’ll be around for many, many more years, the truth is, we never know how long we have in this world. But if in the time I do have, I teach them trust in God and believe that God has plan for them, then that faith will be something that they can hold onto, even once I’m no longer able to hold on to them.