We’re not prepared for the loss of a loved one. There’s no book to read, no real way to prepare, if the loss is expected, or if it’s a sudden loss.
I’ve dealt with loss quite a bit over the last few years, personally and professionally. We lost our mother after a tough struggle with cancer. They say there’s a sense of relief, that the person we love is no longer in pain, but the loss and the pain for the survivors is still so deep. People who lose a loved one due to sudden death, such as a stroke or an accident, feel the pain and loss just as deeply, but differently, as they had no time to “prepare.”
While there’s no way to prepare, there are resources that can help. First of all, grief counseling is tremendously helpful, whether you go for a couple of sessions or a longer duration.
It’s amazing to me that in 2020, people who feel embarrassed or uncertain about mental health counseling. If you broke a bone or suffered another serious injury, you’d go to the doctor without reservation.
Most importantly, you need to remember you’re not alone. You have friends and people who want to be there for you. Be open to going for a walk, having a drink, or going for ice cream. You’re part of a greater community, even if you only dip your big toe (or even less) in the water. Attend services at your local synagogue or church, depending on your belief system. Be open to trying all options. People are very welcoming, especially if you let them know why you’re there. Last year, we met a fellow at services who was in tow after his mother passed away. We had plans with other families for a post-Shabbat dinner and invited him to join us. He was hesitant, but we persisted with our invitation. He came to dinner at our friends’ house and enjoyed being there in the company of new friends.
I’ve been on both sides of the deal. After my mother passed away, I took the counsel of a Rabbi I greatly respect and took the “deep dive,” going to services every day to say Kaddish for my mother for 11 months, wherever I was. I saw old friends and met new people locally, and in synagogues all over Florida and the rest of the country. All were very welcoming. But that was my path. Every mourner needs to find their path, with open eyes and an open heart. The second part can be a little harder after a death in the family.
Some will say, “But I’m not religious.” As I’ve become older, I have realized that the word “religious” can have many different meanings. If you know the prayers, that’s great and join in; but you can be free to take the time and solemn silence for yourself.
I’ve given this advice to friends and family over the years, and shared it with my clients, too. I’ve represented many people over the years who’ve lost a spouse, parent and, most sadly of all perhaps, a child. When the loss is sudden, there’s a real feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, along with a sense of disbelief and not knowing what to do next. Ferd & Gladys Alpert Jewish Family Service and other community agencies provide grief counseling and related therapies. I can’t recommend this strongly enough.
If life’s a journey measured by the steps we take, the mourning process is part of that journey. We don’t have to take these steps alone, because in this community we aren’t alone!