How Do You Tell Him?

How do you give your child bad news when he’s far away and you can’t see him, hold him? When you can’t know that he’s okay after you shake his world? Today, I got a message on my phone saying Elie’s best friend from his early years in Israel had been badly injured in a serious car crash. How could I tell him when I knew so little? Scary words were thrown around in conversations – neck injuries, back injuries, trapped in the car. It was overwhelming and worst of all was the thought that I had to call and tell Elie.

How much should I tell him? Other than prayers, there isn’t much Elie could do…but could I deny Re’em the prayers of someone who loved him so much and had known him for so long. Re’em was the easiest of Elie’s friends because he spoke English so well. He accepted us from the start and we accepted him. They played together, went together, celebrated each of their bar mitzvahs together, and mourned together when Re’em’s father was killed in a car accident shortly after Re’em’s bar mitzvah.

They grew together, each towering over me long after we’d moved away and conversation between the two boys became sparse. Some conversations here and there, each knew what the other was doing, where they were, how they were. Until today.

Re’em, too, is in the army. He was on his way back when his car overturned, trapping him inside. It’s a nightmare for any mother, for all mothers, and for sisters and friends. A frantic network of calls alerted me to what had happened. When we learned he was in the operating room, I decided to call Elie. I told him only the basics – an accident, he’s in the operating room.

Elie is supposed to come home on Wednesday – once again, if the Syrians don’t attack. If all goes well, he can stay home through Saturday night or Sunday. So perhaps we can go to the hospital on Friday to visit Re’em. Think positive, I said to myself. Don’t let him hear your voice break. Don’t cry on the phone. Wait with the tears and the fears. Little Re’em, who always smiled when he came to my house.

Elie’s sister was good friends with Re’em’s sister. That’s the way it is in small towns and so she spoke to another friend, who was sitting with Re’em’s sister. Wait and pray. Pray and wait. Hours after they said the operation would be over, we were finally told it went better than expected on his knees, but we didn’t yet know about any injuries to his neck. Too soon to talk of any long term problems. Too soon. For now, he’s out of surgery and sleeping.

I had to call Elie and update him. I couldn’t put it off any longer. I knew he would be worried and yet before I had nothing to say. What should I tell him? He can’t do anything? He can’t rush to be by Re’em’s side, as they were so often growing up. What should I say?

I called and he answered right away – another sign of the army’s understanding that the soldiers are human. Two days ago, I couldn’t reach Elie all day. Today, no matter when, he can answer the phone to hear about his friend. One word to his commanding officer and Elie was allowed to answer the phone. One of the boys in his unit is newly married and lives in the city of Sderot, which is constantly being hit by rockets and mortars launched from Gaza. The soldier had permission, even during basic training when the soldiers weren’t allowed to even carry phones, to have his cellphone on and loud all day. If it rang, he answered. Today, when Elie’s phone rang, Elie was allowed to answer. Israeli soldiers are soldiers, but they are human – with families and friends and needs.

“All day, people have been calling me to tell me,” Elie said.

“Who called?”

“Everyone,” was the typical answer of a child who doesn’t want to give details, spoken in the voice of a mature man, but still a child’s answer.

“What did they say?” I asked. Perhaps it was a delaying tactic. I still hadn’t decided what I would tell him.

And then I heard his voice break, just a little, but there anyway, “Ima, please just tell me,” and I knew I would tell him whatever I could. I started slowly, “they said the operation went better than they’d thought it might. He’s sleeping now and will till tomorrow.”

“That’s good,” Elie said, and then my heart broke just a little more when he continued, “they said he was hurt in his back.”

“It might be his neck,” I told him. “But anyway, it’s too early to know. For now, he’s out of surgery and resting. We just don’t know yet.”

How do you give your child bad news when he’s far away and you can’t see him, hold him? When you can’t know that he’s okay after you shake his world?

I guess the answer is with love, with tenderness, with prayers for a friend and hope that tomorrow God will bless Re’em ben Chaya Margalit (ראם בן חיה מרגלית) with a full and speedy recovery and may he have the knowledge that all over Israel, people love him and are praying for him.

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