by Laurie Dinerstein-Kurs
Grieving is a personal journey that passes through many destinations.
This journey begins in the town of Numb N’ Shock. You’re forced to visit this town without warning. You didn’t know you were going there. You didn't know what to pack. And you barely comprehended that you had arrived.
Soon you move along to the next town of I Can’t Believe It. Friends and family pay shiva visits, phones ring and thoughtful baskets of food arrive. Being preoccupied with these visits and gifts bring some semblance of calm, but disbelief always remains in the background.
This trip is not designed for rest and relaxation. It has been deliberately created to somehow find at its conclusion some sense of peace and quiet in the soul. But it’s a very long journey and there is no way to make it short and easy.
While you may take occasional side trips to other places that allow you to momentarily laugh and enjoy, eventually you find yourself back in this town of I Can’t Believe It, facing the surreal.
Now the visitors are fewer, the number of phone calls are less and you don’t quite understand how others can just go on with their lives. And there you sit.
As you continue down the road, your travels bring you to the town of Anger and Guilt. Few travelers – if any – can circumvent this town. It’s on the map, it’s part of the tour, and no one gets to avoid it.
But take comfort in knowing that the painful reminders of today will eventually become the reminders that bring you warmth and smiles. How much later? Well, that’s up for grabs.
The next town on this journey of grief has an equally cold name: Fear Town. This is the place known for instilling fear – fear of the future alone, fear of the unknown, fear of being alone. Hopefully, you’ll choose to not stay here for long.
As you approach your next destination, you find lots of company here. Everyone who has lost a loved one comes here. This is the town of Grief.
Grief can be overwhelming and devastating...if you allow it. Grief is real and powerful and if left unattended can leave you immobile. Jewish traditions have the potential of providing a modicum of release. Kaddish, shiva, shloshim, unveiling and Yahrzeit – each have a unique intention, offering something when there is nothing to offer.
Grief is a process that needs to take its course - a course you yourself map out. Any way you choose to acknowledge the absence of your loved one is a way of conquering your grief. Working through your grief might include setting a place at the Shabbat table where they usually sat; leaving a seat vacant at the Passover Seder; going to places that were meaningful to you both; listening to music that carries with it happy memories; or retelling stories that they loved to tell.
Working through grief is the most important part of your difficult journey. But, like an artist, you have to be patient and persistent, patient with allowing the process to unfold and persistent in your desire to work through the necessary process.
In this town of Grief there are two attractions that may seem at first glance to oppose each other, but they actually work in concert. You can talk, share and be open with others, which helps alleviate some of the strain. And there are moments when silence is a powerful response, contemplative moments that help you focus on what you can take home from this arduous journey. Each has their place.
What’s strange about this journey is that it never fully ends. You’ll likely be revisiting these towns on and off forever more. But there is one destination you want to reach: the town of Acceptance.
That’s where you meet up with yourself again, ready to get back on the road of your life’s journey, ready to consciously allow yourself to welcome new joy, along with acknowledging your loss. As you re-enter the ebb and flow of life, with family and friends, your memories of your loved one will help you move forward to embrace life.