Death is not the end, but a crucial aspect of life that extends beyond our earthly reach.
The greatest respect we can pay the deceased is to live up to the high ideals of Judaism and to perpetuate their memory by filling the void created by their passing, by finding new avenues to express our love and concern for those who need us. People deal with death and grief in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to cope with death and it is normal to experience intense and painful emotional reactions when someone important to you dies.
The Process Of Grief
Grief is a vital part of the recovery process approaching and following the death of a loved one.
It can involve a wide range of emotions. These feelings, although bewildering, are common and natural. The process of grief is often described as involving a number of stages from shock to eventual recovery. These stages may or may not be experienced, or may be revisited over a period of time.
Grief is unique to each person and the following descriptions are an overview to assist you in identifying and coping with your impending or current loss.
Shock or Denial
When you first learn that someone you love is dying or has died your immediate reaction may be one of shock.
“This can’t be happening; not to me.”
Denial is usually only a temporary defence. This is a natural reaction.
Anger or Hositlity
“Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; “Who is to blame?”
Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue.
It is normal for those involved to experience anger, but it is important to let this anger out. Talk to someone you can trust and feel comfortable with in discussing these difficult and painful issues. If necessary, do not hesitate to speak with your Rabbi, or seek professional help.
Letting go of your emotions and expressing your feelings helps the healing process and is a positive step. It is normal to want to cry, shout, be angry and reminisce.
You may become depressed and experience overwhelming feelings of loneliness – this is often when you realise that your loved one has gone forever. You may become uninterested in what is happening around you.
“I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “What’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one; why go on?”
During the fourth stage, the mourner begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the mourner to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed. Being there, holding hands, stroking are all immensely valuable and important.
You may begin to blame themselves or others for the death. “If only I had given up smoking”, “If only I’d been there for her” or “If only I hadn’t let him go there” are thoughts that may constantly come to mind.
Remembering the past you shared with your loved one is also common. All the good times which you shared can become a constant thought. Although it may seem to hurt more, it can bring you some relief to share your memories and feelings with others.
You may experience physical symptoms while grieving. It is important to take time to look after yourself for your health and wellbeing. Make sure you eat properly, exercise regularly, aim to get a good night’s sleep and visit your doctor for a check up. It is common for people who have lost their partners to stop cooking and eating properly for a while, but it is important not to do this.
Signs Of Recovery
It will take time to work through the grieving process, but eventually you will start to feel better and ready to get on with your life again.
The length of time it takes to work through the grieving process varies from person to person. The painful feelings will diminish over time, but if they remain intense and prolonged, it is advisable to seek professional help.
Helping To Cope With Grief
The grieving process will be a difficult time for you, but by following a few practical steps, you may be able to readjust to life more quickly, even though it will be very difficult on your own to start with, if you have lost a long-term partner.
- Keep in contact with family and friends, either by letter, phone, visits or inviting them around for tea or coffee.
- Plan your social events ahead of time so that you have something to look forward to.
- For a change of scenery, go and stay with friends or family who live some distance from you.
- Join, or renew your involvement in, your local synagogue.
- Join a social club or organisation to meet new people.
- Join a volunteer organisation to help others.
- Keep a diary to help you follow and understand your path through the grieving process.
- Express your emotions openly. It may help to talk to a friend, relative or counsellor about your feelings.
- Delay making major changes, such as selling your house.
Traditionally we read our prayers, even if we know them by heart. The one exception to this is the first line of the Shema. This is because our tradition says these are the final words we should say on our deathbed, concluding with the declaration of God’s one-ness, ‘Echad’, as our life expires.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad! – Hear, O Israel, the Eternal One is God, the Eternal God is One!