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August 4, 2022

08/04/2022 12:24:09 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

This week we begin the fifth and final book of the Torah, Devarim or Deuteronomy. The book spends a great deal of time reflecting on the previous books while Moses prepares for his demise before the Israelites can cross over the Jordan River into the land of Israel (Canaan at the time). In fact, the book is comprised of a series of goodbye speeches Moses made. Each was intended to provoke certain actions and feelings in the future. As Moses was cursed to know his death was imminent, so too were the Jewish people. This allowed for preparations to be made and for grieving to be observed. For those of us who have lost a loved one to a terminal disease, we’re all too familiar with the immense pain associated with the “long goodbye.” We’re well versed in the roller coaster of hope and defeat we’re roped into every moment of those days, weeks and months. For the mourners, the grief doesn’t begin at death but rather when the knowledge of the inevitable is revealed.

Each year during the three weeks of collective Jewish mourning, ending with Tisha B’Av, I try to focus less on the destructions of the Temples in Jerusalem and more on the importance of grief in our lives. I do so because I believe focusing on grief allows for the period of time to be more meaningful and engaging. I believe conversations about something we would rather not experience forces us to confront our realities and our individual truths. Grief is as human as it gets. Grief is as real as it gets. In fact, one could say that to grieve is to live or vice versa.

As we look back on our lives, there are things we grieve that are both big and small. We grieve deaths of those we love and hold dear. We grieve loss of innocence when we learn of evils in our world. We grieve the loss of being indestructible when we become sick or vulnerable. We grieve when relationships don’t work and we grieve when we don’t succeed. We spend our lifetimes celebrating successes and mourning failures. Each one of these items we grieve is significant to us. Each one of them makes us who we are now. When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote in her book, On Death and Dying, about the five stages of grief, she did so to help us better understand our emotions and thus gain insight into our struggles. The five stages she identified were: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. People have spent years ripping this model apart over the basic reality that a “one size fits all” approach to something as individual and personal as grief is too simplified and flat out wrong. This can be addressed by simply stating that the model isn’t a rule but an approximation. That is to say “people typically will experience these stages.” The other necessary adjustment to the model is to recognize it’s not a linear experience. People will experience these emotions in a different order and will cycle over and over again over their lives.

My issue with the model is the “last” stage: acceptance. What does it mean to accept loss? Sometimes we use the terminology of “moving on” from our grief. This is foolish because the grief doesn’t go away, rather it becomes a reality of our world experience moving forward. That’s why I choose to use the language, “moving forward,” with people I counsel, and with myself in my own episodes of grief. It’s not possible to move on from loss but it is possible to move forward with loss. The grief we feel doesn’t go away so much as it transforms and reshapes itself and us as well.

As Americans in living in the 21st Century, we tend to try to minimize vulnerabilities and sadness. We try to move past things that make us uncomfortable. The better way to live is to sit with those moments of hurt and grief and experience them for what they are. They are a price we pay for the lives we are blessed to live.

Thu, August 11 2022 14 Av 5782