By Donna Kane, MA
Loss and grief touch everyone. It is an inevitable part of being human. Most people have some understanding of loss and grief, but how people experience grief can be as unique and individual as each and every person.
How do we protect ourselves from the tremendous pain caused by the death of a loved one? It is human nature to avoid pain. But in grief it is actually better to move toward our pain. The expression “grief work” conveys how difficult this is to do. Even harder- how to embrace your loss and grieve when the Jewish Holidays are upon us? How do you cope with the empty place at the table?
It is possible, with some thought and planning, to approach the Holidays with a different set of expectations- ones that include the opportunity for mourners to find solace and comfort in the customs of our Holidays. Even with the heavy burden of grief it may be possible to look toward the New Year with some expectation of comfort and peace.
The Executive Director of NextSteps, Lee Pollak, LCSW, has suggested the following strategies:
Plan Ahead: Anticipation can ease the impact of the holiday. Usually the anticipation is worse than the event (I see this over and over when people have an unveiling). No matter what arises you will be prepared.
Assess Tradition: Be realistic about what you can handle. Eliminate the pressure of having to do something a certain way because you always did it that way. “If nothing else, death teaches us impermanence”, says Pollack. There are always new ways to approach old traditions, so what happens this year does not need to be the blueprint for next year.
Balance Solitude and Socializing: Grief is exhausting. Allow yourself some time to be alone.
Acknowledge Memories: Memories are important for healing, and sharing stories promotes a bond between family and friends. There is truth to the saying that “sorrow shared is sorrow diminished.”
Do Not Accept Silence: To me, this is the most detrimental myth about grief and loss. Sharing stories and memories helps those grieving to feel connected, and therefore, less alone. When family and friends acknowledge the person who has died, it allows the relationship to continue, to “live on” in spite of the loss. Acknowledge the empty place at the table.
JCS and Sol Levinson Bros. Funeral Home are presenting a special program to help people find comfort and support. Join us for The Empty Place at the Table: Copings with Loss During the Holidays at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center in Columbia on Tuesday, September 16th at 7pm. The program is free but pre-registration is preferred by visiting jcsbaltimore.org/griefsupport or by calling 410-466-9200.
It is understandable for a mourner to dread the upcoming Jewish holidays. There is no denying there will be difficult moments. Try to allow yourself to experience comfort and some pleasure as well. Remember that you will not “get over” the death of a loved one. The loss becomes a part of your life, a part of who you are. Most importantly, remember that other people will want to offer support. Be open to accepting help when others reach out. Judaism is always aware of the fragility of life. We can come together in our grief and in the hope of a happy and healthy New Year.
By Donna Kane, MA, JCS Access Services
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.
JCS and Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Home are sponsoring free community bereavement groups beginning in October. Groups will meet at Levinson’s new Howard County Arrangement Center in Columbia and they will also continue to meet in Pikesville. For more information call 410-466-9200 or visit jcsbaltimore.org/griefsupport or sollevinson.com.