Chayei Sara 5780 – Go Forward

By: Michael Carr

How long do we or should we grieve and follow the process of bereavement for the loss of a loved one?

While I am not an expert on the topic of grieving nor follower/student of Dr. Joel Roffman or David Kessler (grief experts), I turned to what all of us Kehilah scholars may do to find out about grief (Google) – which mentions that:

While [one’s] intensity of feelings may lessen over time, there is no timetable for how long you will grieve. The length of time is different for each person. For most people it is a long process and it can take years.  Also learned that grieving is a ‘relational’ process. How we deal with our grief over our lifetimes can change as we grow older.

Today for first-degree relatives such as parent, child, sibling, and spouse it seems like the process of bereavement derived from Judaism‘s classical Torah and rabbinic texts, was designed to keep us ‘chosen’ people ‘stuck’ in a state of bereavement/loss for at least a year not to mention the personal guilt for absolution of the process that simply adds to the complexity of the emotional loss. So while it may seem that for many, mourning, loss and grieving can get messy – like an emotional tornado – the process is actually about honoring the deceased and comforting mourners.

I’ve somehow been lucky to avoid a serious personal loss though some might consider divorce a loss of a cultural expectation of the family unit though the experience was amicable and timely.

I have also avoided an extended grieving process with my immediate family though it seems like it might be right around the corner.

My mother 80 and father 83 have both ‘narrowly’ escaped death after experiencing multiple heart attacks (in fact my mother’s first was only 6 weeks ago) and a fall down 15 stairs for my father. I am very grateful they are still here today. Also grateful for their understanding and application of things like medications, exercise, eating right and of course their coverage with Kaiser Health Plan in California.

However while I have had the experience of losing three grandparents whom I had some personal connection, my sense of emotional grief was minimal at best. There were no tears – there was no real deep or extended sadness. Different than my parents and sisters I was at peace that my grandparents were at peace.

Nevertheless it seems like all of us experience grief/loss/bereavement differently for different situations of death or loss that occur in our lives.

Some of us experience ‘short lived grief’ or sadness over say a favorite sports team that does not win, the loss of a job, or when our computer crashes or credit card or bank account has been hacked.  Somehow and sometimes we find our way out. There is another win in the season, another job, another computer.

I think about the grief and bereavement of concentration camp survivors. How long have they grieved? How did they learn to overcome their grief? Perhaps by transcending the past and focusing on the future. Perhaps they remembered that their life and their future was ahead of them. They moved forward.

When we lose a loved one we grieve and attempt to overcome the pain and trauma of loss.  Some cope with the loss on their own, with the help of a counselor, friends or relatives. Some of us celebrate the life of the deceased.  Others get stuck like Noah who had his own flavor of grieving/trauma from unresolved survivors guilt and sought out his method to numb his personal pain.

While grieving can be an extended process what’s remarkable about Abraham’s behavior upon the death of Sarah is the immediacy of his actions.  In fact, it seems that after all we know about Abraham and Sarah you’d have thought he would have spent the remainder of his life in constant bereavement and grief.

Yet – according to this weeks parsha this is not what happens at all.

Instead, according to the Torah – Abraham mourns, cries and then decides to ‘take action’.

He did not wait for G-d to come through for him. He’d already been ‘down that road’ and nothing happened.  For example – seven times Abraham had been promised the land of Canaan, yet when Sarah died Abraham did not own any land in a place to bury his wife.

While we’re on topic about about G-d’s promises to Abraham about fathering many children, creating a great nation, many nations, as many as the grains of sand in the sea shore and the stars in the sky.

As we read in Torah eventually G-d helps out Abraham and Sarah with the birth of Isaac.

So Abraham a man of around 137 years had debilitating grief – right?

Actually – Abraham does not get stuck in grief.  He mourns a little bit and then he get’s moving.  He does two things in spite of his grief and loss over Sarah.

First he purchases Me’arat Machpelah as a final resting place for Sarah.

Next, Abraham takes further action by directing his servant Eliezer to take his 37 year old son Isaac to Mesopotamia to find a wife. As we read in this parsha  they come upon Rebekah who is the grand-daughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor and eventually there is an eventual union of the families.

What about today?  What about people -like Abraham – who have taken action in the face of loss/grief?

How about John-Walsh who became an advocate for victims of violent crimes after his son was abducted and killed. He was the host of the television program America’s Most Wanted and now In Pursuit with John Walsh.

What about parents of the Sandy Hook massacre – some of whom have created non-profits to help others cope with similar loss and grief.

Or how about our own Dr. Joel Roffman who took action by publishing two books about personal loss.

To close here are a few thoughts to help cope with loss, grief and bereavement:

1)  Dr. Phil in his book, Real Life: Preparing for the 7 Most Challenging Days of Your Life has 9 ideas for coping with grief/loss.  His summarized advice includes:  Accept What You Cannot Change, Find Strength in Others, Don’t  Get Stuck, Think About How You Will Prepare for Your Own Death and Celebrate Life.

2)  Live with gratitude.  Albert Schweitzer said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lit the flame within us”.

3) Finally – A lesson from Abraham as quoted by Will Rogers, “If you wait until your ready, you’ll wait forever.” – remember to take action!