My wife is sick. I am terrified to lose her and thinking of my own mortality. I’m trying to improve my emunah and bitachon as I deal with this but sometimes it feels like just words. How can I internalize this trust in God?
Loving and Worried Husband
Dear Loving and Worried Husband,
First, let me wish your wife a refuah shelaymah, may she have a complete and speedy recovery. It is so hard to have someone so precious in a situation so precarious. Let me also wish you all the resources you need to get through this difficult period.
I have been married for almost 33 years, I met my husband when I was a teenager. It’s hard to imagine life without him, my he live and be well. We have shared so much over the years: pregnancies, miscarriages, children, grandchildren, the death of our teenage son, the death of a two-week-old granddaughter, the death of a one-year-old grandson, the death of my father-in-law. He was 85.
It feels so different to lose an 85-year-old than it does to lose a 2-week-old. One so rich in life, so much to show for his time here; one so fresh, so promising, so hopeful, just slipping away so soon. One we knew so well; one we hardly met.
And one and nineteen. Also so different. Both fully in this world, neither one staying long enough. One with childhood ahead, and all the cuteness and difficulty of those early years, one with all that behind, ready to tackle the world. Both with so many chapters unwritten. Both tearing huge holes in our hearts. And for some family members, tearing huge holes in emunah as well.
I certainly shed many tears, ate too much chocolate, davened more and davened less, lost some emotional bandwidth and live with fitful nights of unsatisfying sleep in the wake of not just the deaths, but the illnesses, and the toll they took on our family, that led to them. But, I think, I hope, my emunah is intact. My bitachon is intact. It’s not the only response, but it’s the only one that could work for me to bring me through all that.
Here is some of what worked for me:
With the first breath, we hope for 120 years. Hardly anyone gets it. But even those who do, die in the end. For me, knowing this helps. If we are born, we will die. The question is only when.
You could ask why. Why did Hashem design the world with death as a part of it? Why does every life have sorrow? Why does every life have hardship?
The first answer is, Hashem did design the world. It’s not an accident. He put it there for a reason.
Here’s one of my favorite jokes, one that pulled me through a lot of hard times: “What is the difference between G-d and a Jew?
G-d knows everything. And a Jew knows better.”
Don’t we think we know better?
That’s why we think it’s not fair that _______, or it’s not right that _______, or it shouldn’t be that _______. There are so many things we can use to fill in those blanks.
But Hashem knows exactly what He’s doing, even when we fail to see the wisdom, or even the plan, in what He has chosen.
I worked hard on anchoring myself in that. I am here only as long as I am allotted. Although I’ve heard that some people feel ready to die, I can’t ever see having that feeling. Maybe part of being “samayach b’chelko” is being happy with the part that we get, the fraction of what we want: the piece of marital happiness that we get, the piece of financial success that we get, the piece of respect that we get, the piece of actualization that we get, the piece of life that we get… is it ever enough? Or, like with Dayeinu, can we say thank you for this, thank You for taking me to the edge of the Promised Land, even without letting me in, this is enough to thank You for, even though it really isn’t enough.
For me, emunah comes from looking at our history and using that to learn about my present and our future. With almost 33 years of marriage, 33 years of experience, I know a lot about my husband. I don’t know it all, but I can extrapolate a lot from what I do know. I have a lot of faith in him, based on my knowledge of him. For me, the same is true of Hashem. I have my 54 years of experience of living with Hashem, plus 3300 years of Jewish history that I can learn from that tells me even more. Emunah is using what I know, what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced, and trusting in Hashem right now.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to live longer than He has planned, I’ve seen clearly that He allows everyone to die. And it doesn’t even mean that my death will be easy or not protracted. But it does mean that it’s all for a reason. He’s not mean, He’s not capricious, He’s not thoughtless. He is deliberate, He is loving, He is caring. Trusting/Having Emunah in Hashem’s love, and Hashem’s plan, allows me to have bitachon.
Emunah is how one thinks. Bitachon is how one lives because of how one thinks. Bitachon allows me to make a strong effort and then to release and leave the result to Hashem. He’s got this. Bitachon allows me to appreciate each day and what it offers. Who knows if I’ll have another chance? Bitachon allows me to let go of anger and resentment toward others. Why bother? First of all, Hashem’s got this. And second of all, all I know I have is now. Why waste it? Bitachon allows me not to worry, but just to be with whatever it is. He’s got this. That way, I can be with whoever needs me, whoever wants me, in that moment without worry about the next. Why waste time and energy on worry, when: He’s got this.
Again, that doesn’t mean it’s going to go how you want it to go. Believing it will all be good in the end is not emunah. Believing it will all be right in the end is. And, ultimately, right in the eyes of Hashem is good. That’s the deeper meaning of “gam zu l’tovah”.
Having a sick loved one is so very hard. And worrying about your own mortality, or even worse sometimes, worrying about your own life without that loved one in it is also very difficult. Here is where double emunah can really help. Not only can you work on releasing control (even as you maintain effort) because you trust that Hashem has got this, but next remember that Hashem actually has faith in you too.
When you wake up in the morning, so thankful to take that first conscious breath, knowing that you have another day, and you express that thanks to Hashem, you end that expression of thankfulness by appreciating Hashem’s faith in you. You’ve accomplished a lot. You’ve gone through a lot. You’ve changed a lot over the course of your life, and Hashem knows you can do it again. And again. And again. As long as you are alive, you still have growing to do. And you still have the ability to do it.
May you and your wife grow together during this time. May you face each day with renewed awareness that every moment is a gift and that neither of you want to squander the days, or hopefully the decades, that you have on worry. Hashem will be loving and kind and do what He sees as best and He knows that you can do that too.
Please let me know if you would like to talk about this further, there is so much more to learn and share.
For now I wish you love and warmth,