At Yizkor services this morning I shared the following:
Years ago I was on the Religious School carpool line on a Sunday when a member of the community asked if we could talk. One of her parents had died some weeks before so I stopped what I was doing and we went up to my study to speak.
When we sat down she began to cry. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Most of the time I’m doing pretty well.”
I handed her a box of tissues and assured her that not only was there no reason to apologize but that her “doing pretty well” on the one hand and her sitting there crying weren’t mutually exclusive. Allowing ourselves to feel and to feel deeply is part of “doing well” when we grieve. Allowing ourselves to feel such painful memories takes strength and being that vulnerable takes courage, both of which, I told her, she had been displaying throughout this difficult time in her life.
She eventually stopped crying. “Most of the time,” she said, “I can get through the day without breaking down. Nights are hard but even then I don’t feel consumed with grief. But every Sunday I drop my kid at Religious School and I just lose it. I lose all control of my emotions. And it has happened every Sunday since my mother died.”
“Every one of us,” Rabbi Naomi Levy writes, “has suffered a hurt that has robbed us of something much larger than the actual hurt itself. [For] Just as a solitary pebble can cause an entire pond to ripple, a single, painful experience can have far-reaching effects on our lives.”
I asked the individual I was sitting with to tell me what her normal routine had been on Sundays prior to her mother’s death. She explained that she would get up, make her daughter breakfast, drop her kid off at temple and then go home… and over a cup of coffee she would talk to her mother on the phone for an hour.
She stopped mid-sentence. Her mouth dropped open and she said, “OH!!!”
Obviously, every Sunday, when the time arrived when she would normally speak to her mother her grief would well up. For as much as she was grieving her mother, she was also grieving that hour of connection each week.
And while that may be obvious to those of us looking in and observing her, when we are in the valley of the shadow of grief it is hard to see with clarity.
What that individual was dealing with is an aspect of grief that is rarely addressed. Such “sudden traumatic upheavals of grief”—or STUGS as they are called—are part of the grieving process. They are the moments when a song or a food or a smell or an occasion reminds us of our loss and floods us with emotion in unexpected, and often painful, ways.
Those very same memories, those moments of deep shared connection that can cause us such pain, are also the threads that come together to weave the connection we once had to the individual we mourn. And while those memories can be painful, the hope is that, over time, the sharp pain will subside and the beauty of the relationship we once had can emerge and those memories become a warm comfort rather than a sharp pain.
Perhaps that is why we come together for Yizkor four times a year. These mornings offer us a space to once again feel deeply and to reconnect with our grief. Not so that we dwell in it, and not in order to cause us additional pain, but so that we have a space to continue grieving so that, the rest of our days, we can reconnect with life and all of its blessings.
Because grief doesn’t go away. But it does mellow over time and when it does, the beauty of our connection to those we mourn can, hopefully, bring us comfort rather than pain.
Let me end these words with another prayer by Rabbi Levy. She writes,
Teach us always to believe in our power to return to life, and to you, our God, no matter what pains we have endured, no matter how far we have strayed from you. Give us the strength to resurrect our weary spirits. Revive us God, and we will embrace life once more in joy, in passion and in peace.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen