April 2021

Making Room for the Broken Heart

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By Shayna Kaufmann

Last Spring, when my dad was in seemingly full health for an 89-year-old, I wrote an article for L’chaim Magazine entitled Shiva: A Profoundly Mindful Judaic Ritual. I recounted the depth, sorrow, beauty and profound mindfulness of mourning my mom’s passing two years prior.

Weeks after I submitted the article, my dad was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. The article was published in June, three weeks before he passed away. I remember my brother Eddie quietly reading the article aloud to me, my sister-in-law Blayne and my nephew Ben as we sat around the kitchen table of our childhood home. Our dad was asleep in his recliner in a nearby room. When Eddie finished reading, we were speechless and teary-eyed. We knew another Shiva was around the corner. And we knew, with Covid, Shiva would look and feel very different this go-round.

My dad’s funeral was aired on zoom with over 100 people in attendance. Shiva was limited to our large immediate family with the looming awareness that even this was medically risky. We had a few subsequent shiva zooms with friends and relatives. Though we appreciated the love and support, seeing names and faces on a screen could not replace hugs or the palpable shared grief of a room full of mourners. I did my concluding Shiva walk with my husband sans a Rabbi, after saying Kaddish on Zoom.

Covid also changed my subsequent mourning. Gone was the opportunity to grieve in the quiet and stillness of my synagogue and meditation center. Gone was the presence of others to bear witness to and hold my grief. And though zoom opportunities were plentiful, gone was the in-person intimacy.

By early fall, with Covid not relenting, I realized that I needed to create a dedicated time and space to fully mourn. I decided to meditate in the early morning, when the house is quiet and the sun rising. Being awake and still during the sunrise proved to be as beautiful and powerful as any sanctuary. I resumed hiking my “sacred” Cowles Mtn. in times of sorrow knowing that my friends could safely support me and the earth could hold my grief. And I participate in virtual services and retreats, for longer opportunities of presence. During one retreat involving movement, I recalled dancing with my father at my wedding as he cried. I realized his tears were his farewell to me. I danced and cried with him alone in that quiet room, this time with me bidding him farewell. It was incredibly healing.

Every single one of us has so much to grieve right now. Even with vaccinations abounding, there has been an inordinate amount of loss, disruption, and fatigue. Though some mechanism for grieving are not available, you may be surprised at what you can create in the sanctity of your home or in nature. You just have to carve out time and create a sacred space. May we all make time to feel and heal and tend to what we lost and, in doing so, continue to move forward with grace.

Shayna Kaufmann, Ph.D. is a psychologist and long-term meditation practitioner. Her specialties include webinars, workshops and meditation instruction to women in midlife.

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