We all know that words have incredible power. They can be used to break and to destroy but they can also be used to build and to heal. I want to share a story with you.
This past shabbos, Parshas Ki Seitzei was my brother Shalom a"h's bar mitzvah parsha. I spent shabbos with my family and we talked about him and remembered some stories. My mother repeated something I had never heard before.
(If you are new to this blog and haven't read the story, you may want to start reading it by clicking on this link.)
One of the lifeguards who came to help do CPR (when he heard that Shalom fell down from the tree) makes a siyum every year on the yartzeit and calls in so we could hear it over the phone. He is now married and lives in Eretz Yisroel but he still never forgot Shalom on his yartzeit. He gets a group of bachurim together and they eat cake and say their brachos...every single year.
I'm always curious to know why someone like that-who didn't have any real, personal connection to my brother until the day he passed away would go out of his way to learn something and finish on the yartzeit, make a siyum and call us so we could hear him saying it while taking the time difference into account as well...
Well, this year we found out-from his wife.
After my brother fell from the tree, he was able to stand up and walk around for a few seconds while being supported by a few boys. They were quickly told to put him down because if there was a spinal injury, it is most important to keep the patient still and not move him around to minimize the damage to the spine and prevent paralysis. Shalom lost consciousness a little later and some lifeguards came to do CPR to try to revive him. This lifeguard was one of them and unfortunately, they were not able to do anything for my brother. There was one EMT who did CPR the entire trip to the hospital and kept him alive until he got there. He passed away a short while later.
When this lifeguard got home from camp, his mother told him, "This is your fault! You should have saved the boy! Why didn't you try harder? You didn't do enough!"
Could you imagine the guilt?
Could you imagine his pain?
How could someone say that?
Obviously, this was meant to be! If Hashem wants someone to remain alive, they can fall from the highest tree and survive. Hashem wanted my brother back. His time was up. There was no way in the world anyone who tried anything would have been able to bring him back to life. This was the will of Hashem.
This boy had a very hard time. His mother put the blame on him and he was living with a very strong feeling of guilt in his heart.
After we got up from shiva, my mother sat down to write thank you notes to all the people involved - those in camp who helped try to save my brother and a personal note to each of the lifeguards who did CPR on him.
When this boy got a letter in the mail and saw my family name in the return address, he started shaking. He was terrified to open it up. He thought for sure it was a letter putting him down and asking him why he didn't do more to save Shalom.
But he got the letter and so he opened it.
He was shocked when he read it. It was written with such warmth, with words of thanks for trying to do whatever he could to save my brother.
He took that letter and hung it above his bed. He read it every single day. At least once a day.
He became a new person.
He was able to live normally again. The family didn't blame him so of course it wasn't his fault. This was meant to be.
And that is why every single year on my brother's yartzeit, he makes a siyum and calls us so we could join in and hear it over the phone. Because of one letter that he got in the mail that changed his life around and helped him realize that he did all he can and he was appreciated by our family - just for trying.