We don’t plan the death of a loved one. When the inevitable happens, it is important to know that there is somewhere you can go to get the support you need to begin healing from your grief. Each of us may have our own way to grieve. I have found that there are two important approaches that can make a profound difference in the way we heal from loss.
Following the loss of a loved one, it is important to turn inward and allow yourself to experience the depths of your pain and despair. By allowing the pain to be experienced, the tears to flow, healing can become a reality. By exploring our guilt, our fears, and uncertainty, the pain can slowly dissipate. It takes personal courage to engage in this mourner’s path; however, it can lead you to personal healing and renewal. Many people choose to keep busy and avoid experiencing their pain. Unfortunately, if we don’t deal with the pain, it inevitable catches up with us and causes even greater despair. The spiritual task of mourning is to face one’s fears, painful memories and guilt and ultimately welcome the “new normal,” our new sense of our self which incorporates the death of our loved one in the fabric of our life. The path of healing may lead to a new sense of oneself, with a greater sense of purpose and a feeling of connection to family, loved ones, and God.
It is also important to find a circle of friends who understand the pain, confusion and uncertainty that you are feeling. Family and friends can be sources of love and understanding throughout the mourning period. However, many mourners choose to withhold the depths of their inner sorrow from family members who are also grieving their own loss. A bereavement support group offers participants a safe place to share with others who truly understand how you feel. Group participants tell the story of their loved one’s life and death. I have found that it can heal the soul to share one’s pain with others who truly listen and empathize with your pain. In a recent support group, a mother and daughter came to mourn the death of their husband/father. A few weeks after the conclusion of the group, the mother unexpectedly lay dying in the hospital. Several of the group members sat at the bedside, bringing comfort to the distraught daughter. When I officiated at the funeral, I was so moved by the way the support group members surrounded the bereaved daughter with their love and support. In a Jewish bereavement group, participants discuss their experiences with the Jewish stages of loss – aveilut, shiva, shloshim and yahrzeit. Questions that are discussed include: what happens after we die? Do you believe in an Afterlife – Olam Haba? Is there a way to communicate on a spiritual level with our loved one who has died? These and other topics serve for lively discussions during our weekly meetings. By turning both inward and outward to others who have suffered similar losses, it is possible to connect with God, with our sacred truth, and find greater healing and eventual wholeness.
Rabbi Aliza Berk, LMFT, is the rabbi at Jewish Family Service, the President of SDRA – the San Diego Rabbinic Association, and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Private Practice. She will offer three bereavement groups in the spring at Chabad in University City, Congregation Beth El and Seacrest Village in Encinitas. For more information go to www.jfssd.org/jhc.