Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Kislev 5766 - December 7, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Life Journeys
The Lost Child
True stories about real people

by Sara Gutfreund

"And that's when I realized that a lot of mothers who have many children sometimes overlook the beauty of each of them"

Today I am a grandmother [Ed. No, this is not Sara's own story!] with many wonderful children and grandchildren. From the outside, no one would ever guess how much I have suffered. And they wouldn't know that I am still racked by grief at odd hours of the day. But I keep my story a secret. After all, it happened so long ago, and there's nothing that I can do about it anymore. But next week, my eldest granddaughter is getting married, and she has asked me to share with her some advice to take with her into her new home. That is why I have decided that I will tell my story again, no matter how painful it is to speak about it.

I grew up in Meah Shearim, in a large, warm family of twelve children. When I married, I dreamed of having a big family of my own. My husband was a budding talmid chochom, and I worked as a secretary in a nearby medical clinic. Hashem granted us many children in quick succession. I was overjoyed with the births of my children, but I also found myself quite harried most of the time.

In order to support my husband's learning, I had to continue to work long hours in the clinic, and I couldn't even take off more than a month after each birth. I couldn't believe how hectic and overwhelming it was to take care of small children after a long day at work. How had Mama managed so well with all of us? I remember wondering in my harder moments. Nevertheless, I was content with our life, and I managed to run the house reasonably well and perform adequately at work. The problem was that I didn't know my own children very well. Of course, I loved them and fed them and shopped for them. But by the time I had eight children, I found it increasingly difficult to focus on each child. And that made it more challenging for me to understand my children's behavior.

Take Ephraim, who was only two at the time; he was a handful. I know most toddlers are difficult at that age, but he seemed to be especially so. He refused to listen to any rules, and whenever we would scold him, he would turn to us with that mischievous grin.

One afternoon, my seven-year-old daughter Shiroh needed a new pair of shoes for school. I was exhausted, as usual, and not looking forward to taking eight children shoe-shopping. But the baby-sitter had canceled at the last minute, and Shiroh's old shoes were literally falling apart. I buckled the baby into the stroller, and instructed Ephraim to hold on to the stroller as we walked. Of course, he didn't listen, and I had to maneuver the stroller with one hand while grabbing onto him with the other.

By the time we arrived at the shoe store, I was frazzled. I went immediately up to the shelf and found an acceptable pair of shoes which I asked the salesman to bring to me in Shiroh's size. Meanwhile, Ephraim began to remove the shoes from the lowest shelf. I was at the end of my rope. I never liked to use bribery, but I had run out of ideas. I promised Ephraim a lollipop if he would stop touching the shoes. Surprisingly, he listened and stood still for a moment.

I turned my attention back to Shiroh, who was struggling to put on the new shoes, and then to the fussing baby who needed her bottle. When we had finally determined that the shoes fit, I sighed with relief. But when I looked up, something was wrong. Ephraim was gone. I looked frantically around the store and then ran outside. The sidewalks were crowded with people. I searched in vain for his curly blond hair and curious brown eyes. I began to panic. Stay calm, I told myself. Stay calm for the other children. And indeed they were looking up at me with frightened expressions and questioning eyes. But suddenly, it hit me. I left the shoes in the store and ran with the children to find my husband. Ephraim was gone.

I don't have to tell you about the horrific time that followed. Everyone kept telling us to have hope. He'll turn up, they kept saying. They kept reassuring me as if they weren't speaking about a tiny two-year-old in the middle of a bustling city. But the hours became days and the days became weeks and the weeks became months and finally, the months became years.

I blamed myself, of course. I still do. I should have watched him more carefully. I should have paid more attention. But my husband kept saying: "This is His Will and we must accept it with love." And eventually, I did start to accept that we weren't going to find Ephraim and that somehow, it was meant to be.

But I never stopped missing him. Not then. Not now. And what I missed most were all those lost opportunities to love him before he disappeared. I hadn't appreciated him. I really hadn't see the light of his precious neshomah. I only saw his antics. And that's when I realized that a lot of mothers who have many children sometimes overlook the beauty of each of them. They get caught up in the grind of daily life, and they forget to stop and treasure their blessings.

It's awful to lose a child. And sometimes it's even harder to know that maybe Ephraim is here, and I wouldn't even recognize him now. But then I wonder. Maybe I would know him. Even with all the chaos and the noise, a mother knows her own child's eyes.

Sometimes I think I will see those eyes again. But it's been over forty years now, and though I still pray that we find him, I have to come to terms with the loss.

I told my granddaughter my story, and we cried together. And I told her to enjoy each child and to savor every moment. In the end, the real lesson that I have learned is that we don't own anything in this world. We don't own our bodies, our homes or our children. He owns them. And He who gives, also takes back.


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