Keep Your Chin Up!

An Open Letter to Kids/Teens Who Lost a Parent

My Dear Friend:

The wisest of men, King Solomon, famously wrote “tovim hashnayim min haechad, she’im yipolu, haechad yokim es chavero – [The shared power of] two are better than one, for if they should fall, one can lift the other.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).

What is difficult to understand is why King Solomon wrote the word “yipolu” in the plural – implying that both fell down. What help can someone on the ground offer another person if he cannot even help himself?

A thought came to me a few years ago – perhaps King Solomon was conveying a profound lesson, that precisely people who share a common challenge just might be the best ones to support each other. Please understand that this is not to suggest that you should not reach out for and/or accept help from others as outside assistance can be very important and helpful. The notion of grief counseling did not exist when my father died before my fourth birthday, fifty-four years ago today. My mother and her children had to cope ourselves in the best way we could.

Today, thankfully, things are very different. The horrible, searing pain of losing a parent did not get any easier. Nevertheless, in today’s environment, professionals can help you explore your feelings and deal with your loss in a way that will help you cope and grow into adulthood with less difficulty.

My dear reader, I would love to tell you that the pain would go away one day. However, that would simply be dishonest. I am so very sorry to say that the agony of losing a parent will never really leave you. The good news, though, is that it does get better, slowly, over time. Growing into adulthood will perhaps enable you to cope better. Starting your own family will help you “get your legs back.” Naming a child after your parent will sooth some of the hurt. But this tragedy is part of your life and you will need to deal with it on some level forever.

I have always maintained that children who lost a parent are not in any ‘high-risk’ category[1]. Surely, we have challenges to overcome and mountains to climb that most others, thankfully, do not. Nevertheless, mountain climbing makes you stronger. Fired in the crucible of the pain and loneliness of losing a parent, many or most of us outgrow the inevitable “why me?” phase, mature earlier than our peers, become more sensitive human beings – having learned at an early age to appreciate life to its fullest.

We, who remain behind in shul to face our sorrow alone while our carefree friends go out to enjoy each other’s company during Yizkor, (a holiday prayer for people who lost a parent) often develop a closer relationship with God, as well, as time passes.

I once heard a touching story about the Chassidic Rebbi, Reb Levi Yitzchok of Bardichiver. He once heard a crowd of people in his synagogue berating a man who was addressing God in a loud and disrespectful tone after his cow had died. That animal was the sole source of income for this individual and his family, and he reacted to his pain by verbally lashing out at God for causing him this loss. The Rabbi, who always looked for the good in people, raised his hands to heaven and exclaimed that he is envious of this man for the close and intimate relationship that he had with God.

I guess that in a strange and similar way, those of us who were forced to confront our feelings with God in our formative years; those of us who had to sort through the pain, confusion – even anger – at God for having lost a loved one, hopefully come to a closer and more intimate relationship with Him over the course of time.

Keep your chin up, stay strong, and may He continue to grant you success and inner peace.

Yakov Horowitz

May the positive lessons gained from these lines be a zechus/merit for the neshama/soul of my father Shlomo ben Yakov Moshe HaLevy Horowitz ob’m whose 54th yahrtzeit is today.


[1] Did you know that 12 out of 45 US Presidents lost a parent at a young age? Have a look here for much more on this.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, Founding Dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey and Director of The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES, is a innovative educator, author, and child safety advocate. He published child safety books that are in 80,000 homes in three languages as well as beginner Gemara/Talmud & Chumash/Bible workbooks. Rabbi Horowitz conducts child abuse prevention and parenting workshops in Jewish communities around the world and received the prestigious 2008 Covenant Award in recognition of his contribution to Jewish education.