On Grieving

Last night, I found out that a person whom I held very dear died on Friday from complications after childbirth. I’m trying very hard to set aside the guilt about her probably not knowing enough just how dear she was to me, because, well, she’s gone, and it doesn’t matter anymore.

It’s with very mixed emotions that I must say I think that us Jews have it right when it comes to grieving. Burial occurs almost immediately. I know that this is not the case everywhere, but here in Israel, orthodox burial (which is the vast majority of cases here) is usually with the body in a shroud. No coffin to protect you from seeing that it’s a dead body. No embalming to make the body look like it might be “just resting”. You are very quickly forced to accept that this person whom you saw just a few days ago, for whose happiness you rejoiced just this week, with whom you were going to make plans in a few days, after she got settled back in at home with the baby, is dead.

I’m going to need this (the funeral is later today) because at the moment, “dead” doesn’t fit into the equation for her. She is supposed to be alive. It feels almost feasible that we should be able to turn the clock back a bit and stop the sequence of events that caused her to contract that fatal infection, and make everything right. The funeral today is going to be hard. I am going to be among many other people I know personally, all of whom loved her very much, all of whom are jolted by the horrific way this has turned out. I’m not going to be able to hide behind anonymity.

The tradition of Shiv’aa, in which the immediate family of the deceased sits down for a week of mourning, while being visited and supported by more distant family, friends, colleagues, community, etc. It gives us time to process, to start letting go.

It will give me time to knit the sweater for her baby, that out of respect for other people’s beliefs, I did not start knitting before both of them got home safe and healthy.

I had a lot to say, a lot to write, but I have to stop now. Because I can try all I want, but I’m not going to be able to make any sense of it.




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4 responses to “On Grieving

  1. Oh, I’m so very sorry.

  2. aliceq

    I said it elsewhere, and I’ll say it here: I’m so very sorry.

    There’s a lot I don’t like about organized Judaism, of any stripe. But I do think the tradition has it compellingly right about death and mourning, especially the built-in timetable of shiva through yahrzeit; it both allows you to focus on grief and gradually transition back to ordinary life.

  3. Julia O'Connell

    There’s so much about the Judaism that I love, and the way death is dealt with is one of them. One of my Jewish friends (who was wonderful about talking to me about his faith) once told me that after a week of mourning, he felt ready to at least try to move forward with his life – that Shiv’aa was a great reminder that life *does* go on. I don’t know if I’m explaining this right – he explained it so much better than I can. But he made me realize that my culture’s way of expecting a person to move forward immediately after the burial is both cruel and unrealistic.

    I’m so sorry. My heart aches for everyone who knew and loved this woman – and for the baby who will grow up without her.

    Thinking of you.

  4. Esther

    I’ve only just caught up with your news and am so sorry to hear you lost a dear friend.
    I’m sure the baby will be comforted by all the love you knit into the sweater.

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