Dealing with Loss
Moving beyond your feelings of sadness and loss of a loved one.
A reader's writes:
I am having a very hard time dealing with the loss of one of our beloved community members at a young age. She was 40 (the same age as I am) and my very first friend here in the Dallas community.
Now that she has been gone for five months, I can't seem to move past my feelings of loss, sadness, and guilt for not spending more time with her when she was so sick.
What can I do to overcome this sense of sadness and loss? Watching her children grow and mature makes me smile, but at night, I can't seem to stop crying... I miss her so.
Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated as I try to get past this depression.
Rebbetzin Feige responds:
My heart goes out to you on the loss of your friend.
Your feelings of guilt can alleviated by:
a. Keeping an eye on your friend's children. There might come a time now or in the future when you can be helpful to them in some capacity and that would be a kindness their mother, in her heavenly repose, would certainly appreciate.
b. Consider an ongoing act of charity, loving kindness, learning, or desisting from some less than desirable behavior and dedicating the effort to your friend's memory. Examples of this might be a visit to a nursing home, volunteering at a school, refraining from gossip, replacing negative expressions with positive ones, etc. This will not only benefit her soul but will keep your deceased friend "alive" and present in your daily life. At the same time, the merit of the spiritual growth attained, will work for both you in this world and your friend in the eternal world.
Our perspective is confined to a tiny slice of life.
As to your sense of loss, your grieving and your feelings of depression, I will share with you what has worked for me.
The blessing we recite in response to hearing of a loss is "Baruch dayan haemes"-- Blessed is the true Judge. The segment we all say in unison in Kaddish, the mourner's prayer, is "yehei sh'mai raba mevorach" -- may the name of God be blessed forever and ever. Even as we are struck by tragic news, we seek to make it intelligible. We proclaim the Almighty as being the only force who is eternal and hence the only one who qualifies as the true judge. He has the vantage point of seeing the entire picture past, present, and future before Him as a coherent whole.
Our perspective as mortals is confined to a tiny slice of life. It is like trying to envision the finished picture of a fully constructed massive puzzle when we have only a few tiny pieces in place. Hence, our perspective and vision is myopic and limited.
The repetition of "yehei shmai raba mevorach" -- may the name of God be blessed for ever and ever, in the mourner's prayer and throughout the prayer services, is like a mantra that embraces us, reminding us over and over again that our Heavenly omniscient parent knows what He is doing and that for the ultimate destiny of creation, painful as it is at this moment, it must be so. Without faith in the true judge, there can be no solace.
I would encourage you, my dear reader, to let the words of "yehei shmai raba mevorach" wash over you again and again, with particular emphasis on the words forever and ever and ever. It will help bridge the gap, the big divide, between what we know and what we can't know; this life and other lives; this world and other worlds, and bring it all closer together as one congruent tapestry.
The second instructive tool on coping in adverse circumstances comes from an insight of a cousin of mine who is a dean of a Yeshiva. He had just buried (God forbid for all of us) his third child. The first young boy had died of leukemia. The second, some years later, was an infant lost to a crib death. The third loss, just recently, was his daughter, the mother of two children who was killed in a tragic car accident.
As long as we are blessed with life, our focus has to be on the road ahead.
After shiva, the required week of mourning, he returned to class and presented his students with an explanatory analogy, alluding to his recent tragedy. He said that navigating through life is like driving a car. You have to have a destination and in order to effectively negotiate the journey, you have to drive looking at the road ahead, with only an occasional glance in the rear view mirror. If one attempts to drive while focusing totally on the rear view mirror, he will most certainly crash and never reach his destination.
Suffering a tragic loss makes us more conscious of our own mortality and the fleeting quality of life. It impresses upon us the urgency of maximizing every moment to make our individual contribution, and to do what we have to do to reach our goals and destinations. We must move forward. Every moment is precious and we have no time to lose. We will be joining our departed loved ones soon enough. But as long as we are blessed with life, our focus has to be on the road ahead. The occasional glance in the rear view mirror is for a reality check. It instructs us as to what really matters, what survives and makes a difference when it is all said and done.
With the lesson gleaned from the deceased's life, we must quickly shift our view back to the road ahead and engage the precarious but precious gift of life that is still ours.
May God bless you with occasions of joy from this day forward.