[guestpost]Today’s post is from Rabbi Evan Moffic, spiritual leader of Congregation Solel in suburban Chicago and one of my dear friends. Although I rarely do guest posts, his insights on grief have been a huge source of encouragement and wisdom for me as of late. In addition, the holidays can often stir the pot of past grief unexpectedly, which makes this post timely. I hope it encourages you. To learn more about Rabbi Moffic, he blogs at Rabbi.me and Huffington Post. Author of Wisdom for People of All Faiths, his next book, What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover, is available February 2015 from Abingdon Press.[/guestpost]
Michele has shared her journey through loss and mourning with us. Her reflections and tribute to her dad continue to teach and inspire. They have also generated discussion about the process of grieving. What more can we learn about how to handle something we all will face during our lives?
My work as a rabbi gives me a front-row seat to human experience. The more I have met with grieving families, the more I have witnessed the power and wisdom behind several Jewish practices of mourning. You do not have to be Jewish to appreciate them. They rest on values that transcend any one religion. They are based on psychology and faith, not a set of beliefs or dogma. In short, they are a time-tested response to the universal experience of loss.
They include the following:
1. Take the time to mourn: A few years ago I met with a family who experienced the tragic death of a young mother. Her four children and husband were devastated. The husband thought going to school would get the kids’ minds off their loss. He believed the pain of being in a home filled with sadness would make the loss harder for them.
I understood his concern, and we talked at length about it. I told him the kids were going to feel enormous pain regardless of whether they were in school or not. I urged him to let the children stay home and grieve with the people who loved them most. In the end he decided to let them stay home, and he told me recently how grateful he was that he did.
Jewish tradition instructs to take seven full days to mourn after the death of a close relative. We are not to attend parties or concerts or weddings or any celebratory activity. We are to sit at home with our friends and family. We are to share stories, pray and simply be together.
We might think getting out of the house or going out with friends will get our minds off of our pain. Yet, I have found that the pain is with us, regardless of what we doing. By addressing and acknowledging it, we can later return to our regular lives with renewed vigor and perspective.
2. Let it out: There is no need to sanitize our grief. The Hebrew word for mourning is avelut. Avelut is also the Hebrew word for crying or shrieking. When we have experienced a loss, we do not need to “keep up appearances.” We need to let ourselves mourn. Jewish tradition would agree with the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who wrote in his “Confessions” that he considered tears the most eloquent testimony of love.
3. Lean on your community: Jewish tradition considers it a sacred obligation to visit and comfort those who are in mourning. We should not grieve alone. During the seven-day period of immediate mourning known as shiva, the family of the deceased opens their homes to family and friends, but they are not expected to entertain or feed them. In fact, the guests are supposed to bring all the food and drinks and whatever else can meet the mourners’ everyday needs.
Even the prayers we say at a service of mourning try to bring us out of the shell grief can create. The primary Jewish prayer of mourning is known as the Kaddish, and it asks God to bring peace and comfort to all people who are in mourning. By saying this prayer, the mourners link themselves to mourners everywhere. They know they are not alone.
4. Create rituals of memory: For the people to whom we were close, we never really stop mourning. A member of my synagogue recently told me she was sitting at her desk concentrating deeply on a project when the phone rang. Her first reaction was to think it was her father, though he had died fourteen years ago. It was the time of day he used to call her.
One of the most meaningful Jewish rituals is to light a candle and say a special prayer on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. The light remains us of their enduring influence in us. The prayers we say connect us and them to God and to one another.
The prayer I always share brings these two parts together. It reads, “God, help us to understand that grief and love go hand and hand, that the pain which loss inflicts is the measure of a love stronger than death. Though we cry in the anguish of our hearts, may we be like children who know that their parent is near and who cling, unafraid, to the trusted hand. In this spirit Oh God, do we commit all that is most precious to us to You and Your keeping. Amen.”
Death can be especially painful and confusing for children. You can find here the best guide I have discovered for how to talk to children about death.
What prayers or traditions have brought you comfort during periods of mourning?