Approaching a Theology of Loss

lonely woman standing on rocky coast
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on

We are asked in Torah to go forth and sometimes we find ourselves stuck. It becomes difficult to move. We lose our footing because our hearts hurt. We may have a  reflexive response and turn our heads behind us only to find salt and fire.

The events that have transpired in Israel and in the Jewish community since October 7 are horrific, not new, and are locked in the DNA of our Jewish consciousness.

The difference is that society is not moving fast enough in its awareness. On one hand we have the language of privilege, marginalization, and power dynamics. On the other hand the collective seems to fall back to its group of origin and in some instances cannot empathize with the Jewish stranger.

A few days prior to October 7, Congregation Kol Ami in Cherry Hill, NJ, did a presentation on Approaching a Theology of Loss. Rabbi Address and I facilitated a discussion on the different loss cycles in our lives. We had a robust conversation about it and Rabbi Address asked me to share it with Jewish Sacred Aging. I found myself without words. The present state of circumstances was yet another loss. My thoughts and reflections about the evening were not as pronounced as the immediate wound that I was experiencing. It was an added loss, feeling unsafe on my own loss line.  It is through community, love, and self-care that I can express it through a different frame. As in Torah study we are each renewed each time we rewind the scroll.

Torah talks about blessings and curses. Can something that appears positive turn negative? And what about something that looks bad? Can that be a blessing in disguise? Do challenging circumstances help us grow? Do they present new opportunities? Do they move us? Do they help us let go? What happens if they don’t? These are the moments that invite us to explore our own theology of loss.

In Genesis we see examples of broken relationships. Some are reconciled and others are not able to be mended. It invites us to examine self-identity and discover who we truly are, the knowing of the authentic self. Often there are financial and social implications as well as considering what is best for the children. How do we split the flock and who goes North or South? Was this my choice and how do I come to terms with letting go of my dream?

Sometimes we are challenged with job loss. This can be our own decision or one that has been forced upon us. We may discover that what we do for a living has more than just financial implications. It may be where we find our social circle, self-identity, and self-worth. Changing occupations and/or retirement may be unsettling for some and for others it may be invigorating. Planning and exploring new opportunities may assist us in alleviating the anxiety of the unknown.

In hospice care patients experience a loss of their independence. They have received a terminal diagnosis and have elected to stop aggressive treatment in favor of comfort. Many share their physical limitations which include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, and incontinence. Some report memory lapse and dementia and have an awareness that they are having difficulty retrieving thoughts and putting them into words. Living in a facility with caregivers may also be a difficult adjustment. Privacy, autonomy, being able or not able to eat certain foods can be challenging. Theological questions arise about life and death, family visits, and religious expression. Some find that the only thing that they can control is whether or not to stay in bed. This type of loss is not limited to the patient. It may also adversely affect the patient’s family and friends, especially when wrestling with the new normal. Sometimes just being present and being heard allows an opening for some blessings of joy in the midst of the sorrow.   

The 23rd Psalm is the most requested Psalm by patients. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner in The Lord is my Shepherd, walks the reader through the different verses of the prose. What was striking for me was a new appreciation for the psalm and a new way of looking at it through the lens of the hero’s journey. It allows reflection and assessment of each transition revealing how blessings and curses may be an invitation to examine where we are. Are we stuck in the valley of the shadow of death and if so, is there comfort and encouragement available to us?

I believe that compassion and healing are the greatest elixirs when experiencing loss. Having a sense of gratitude and openness to joy in community allows healing to begin. Debbie Friedman’s, “Mi Shebeirach” is my favorite prayer and I find it to be powerful and comforting during challenging times. I want to thank Rabbi Address, Adult Education at Kol Ami, and all who participated in sharing their personal reflections during and after our presentation.

I welcome future discussions holding space for both joy and sorrow during difficult times.  

May the source of strength who blessed the ones before us help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.

And let us say Amen.

About Chaplain Cindy Tanz 4 Articles
Cindy Tanz works as a Clinical Chaplain/Bereavement Coordinator for Serenity Hospice PA in Bensalem PA. She is a member of (CPSP) College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy and completed (CPE) Clinical Pastoral Education training at RWJ Barnabas Health Hamilton NJ.   Cindy journeys with patients and families of all faiths through end stage disease progression celebrating life, advocating comfort, and acknowledging grief. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner, Reiki Master, and Animal Assisted Therapist.  Cindy lives in Southern New Jersey and is a member of Congregation Kol Ami, Cherry Hill, NJ, and Main Line Reform Temple, Wynnewood, PA.

1 Comment

  1. Cindy, thank you for your thoughtful article and the discussion you led with Rabbi Address at the synagogue. It is comforting in these painful times for Jews all over the world that there is indeed a source of healing and of blessings.

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