Rachael F. Falk, M.A.
Doctoral Candidate, Clinical Psychology
William James College
All cultures have their own framework for treating the dying, the dead, and the bereaved. For example, Muslim families turn a dying individual’s head so that it faces the direction of Mecca, and they whisper the call to prayer in his or her ear (Morgan, 2012). Japanese Buddhists emphasize direct, daily connection to the deceased, and place memorial tablets on the altar to Buddha in their homes (Klass & Goss, 1999). In some Mediterranean cultures, widowed women often wear black clothing for the rest of their lives (McGoldrick et al., 1991). In secular Western cultures, by contrast, there seems to be an emphasis on “letting go,” where the goal of bereavement is often to find closure and transition in social roles, rather than to maintain ongoing connections with the deceased (Romanoff & Terenzio, 1998). In contemporary American culture, profound sadness is often pathologized. There exists no nationally sanctioned secular model for appropriate bereavement, and there is widespread discomfort with death (Goldberg, 1981).
Grief, in its various forms, is ubiquitious in our lives. Loss and its consequences are normative, albeit painful. Therefore, looking to new models for effective intervention is an important avenue for exploration in order to reduce the likehlihood of persistent, negative consequences known to be associated with widowhood. New models are particularly important now because of the rapidly growing aged population in this country. The number of older adults (i.e., over the age of 65) is expected to grow from approximately 14% of the 2013 total United States population to over 20% in the next 25 years, and to more than double in the next 45 years (Administration on Aging (AoA), n.d.).
One model of ways in which to facilitate the use of rituals during bereavement is offered through the distinctive and highly ritualized mourning traditions in Judiasm, which places high value not only on the mental health needs of the bereaved, but also on the needs of the deceased and the Jewish community as a whole. Rather than emphasizing “letting go,” they emphasize a continued emotional connection between the living and the dead. Myriad Jewish rituals are prescribed across specified time periods post- loss, each with their own specific tasks, in order to carry the surviving loved one through a more structured and emotionally supportive bereavement process designed to “enable the mourner to mourn within the context of care” (Slochower, 1993, p. 360). On a personal note, it was the positive mourning experience my mother had after the consecutive losses of both of her parents in 2012 that inspired me to study this bereavement process.
Focus of the Study
My research aims to elucidate the unique rituals offered by the Jewish religion, and to provide empirical support for the link between participation in such rituals and bereavement outcome for older adults. The goal is to further destigmatize the integration of religion/spirituality into grief work, and asks the question: “What, if any, is the connection between participation in Jewish rituals of mourning and bereavement outcomes?” Specifically, the goal is to provide clarity on the relationship between participation in these rituals and bereavement outcomes for older adults (defined in this project as over the age of 65) after the death of a spouse or long-term romantic partner (defined in this project as longer than 10 years).
To Participate in the Study
In order to be included in this study, I am looking for participants who:
- Are over the age of 65
- Identify as Jewish
- Have mourned the death of a spouse or long-term romantic partner (defined in this project as longer than 10 years)
- Are between one and five years beyond the loss
- Live in the community (i.e., not in assisted living or long-term care)
- Are able to complete an online survey.
If you, or anyone you know, are interested in participation, please direct them to this webpage, and either click the following link or copy the URL below into your web browser, which will take you to the brief online survey. Thank you for your interest and your time!
Administration on Aging (AoA). (n.d.). Aging statistics. Retrieved from http://www.aoa.acl.gov/Aging_Statistics/index.aspx
Goldberg, H. S. (1981). Funeral and bereavement rituals of Kota Indians and Orthodox Jews. Omega: Journal Of Death And Dying, 12(2), 117-128. doi:10.2190/BPHW-5NL1-V2PN-E0BR
Klass, D. & Goss, R. (1999). Spiritual bonds to the dead in cross-cultural and historical perspective: Comparative religion and modern grief. Death Studies, 23, 547-567.
McGoldrick, M., Hines, P., Garcia-Preto, N., Almeida, R., Rosen, E., & Lee, E. (1991). Mourning in different cultures. In Living beyond loss: Death in the family (1st ed., pp. 176-206). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Morgan, J. (2012). The religious point of view: Death in some major religious traditions. In Confronting dying and death (pp. 175-190). Hauppauge, N.Y.: Nova Science.
Romanoff, B. D., & Terenzio, M. (1998). Rituals and the grieving process. Death Studies, 22(8), 697-711. doi:10.1080/074811898201227
Slochower, J. A. (1993). Mourning and the holding function of shiva. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 29(2), 352-367.