The Journey

photo of person walking on deserted island
Photo by Tom Swinnen on

You are on a journey…a grief journey. And on this journey you will pass through many towns. 

This journey began in the town of NUMB N’ SHOCK. You were forced to visit this town as it came upon you without warning – in a blink of an eye. You didn’t know you were going there; you didn’t know what to pack, and you barely comprehended that you had arrived.

Soon thereafter, you moved along to the next town of I CAN’T BELIEVE IT. Friends and family paid Shiva visits, phones rang and thoughtful baskets of food arrived. Being preoccupied with these various and sundry visits and thoughtful gifts, brought some semblance of calm, but always in the background was disbelief.

This is a unique trip. This trip was not designed for rest and relaxation. This trip has been deliberately created to somehow, find at its conclusion, some sense of peace in the spirit and some quiet in the soul. However, it is going to be a very, very, VERY long journey, and there is no easy way to ease your way. 

While you may take occasional side trips to other places…places that allow you to momentarily laugh and enjoy, eventually you do get back on the path that brings you back to this town to face your reality. And now, the visitors may be fewer, the number of phone calls may lessen and it can seem as though others are just able to go on with their lives. And there you sit.

As you continue down the road, your travels will bring you to the town of ANGER AND GUILT. Be assured that few travelers — if any — can intentionally circumvent this town. It is on the map, it is part of the tour, and no one gets to avoid it. 

Just when you think you have had your fill of this town, when you believe you have this down pat — something will crop up and bring it all down. A word, a place, a song, a name…something will bring it all rushing back. So, like it or not, you will probably be here for quite a while. BUT, may it bring you comfort to know that what are painful reminders today will eventually become the very reminders that will bring you warmth and smiles later.

How much later? Well, that’s up for grabs.

Now, even if you do sneak out and make your way to the next town, the next town has an equally cold name — FEAR-TOWN. This is the town known for instilling Fear. Fear of the future alone, fear of the unknown, fear of being alone, fear of …fear. Hopefully, you will choose to not stay here for long.

And, as the route is pre-determined, you will need to continue on to the next town. As you approach your new destination, you will find lots of company here. This is probably the largest, and most populated town…Everyone comes here  — everyone who has had a loved one die. This is the town of GRIEF. Grief can be overwhelming and devastating…if you allow it. Grief is real and grief is powerful and if left unattended can leave you immobile. Old traditions have the potential of providing a modicum of release. Shiva, Shloshim, and Yahrzeit – each have a unique intention. Offering something when there is nothing to offer.

Grief is a process: a process that absolutely positively 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 Shabbos table where they usually sat; leaving a seat vacant at the Seder table; the fuzzy feeling you feel when someone you care about wears or uses something that had belonged to the deceased; going to places that were meaningful to you both; listening to music that carries with it happy memories; or perhaps 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 yourself allowing the process to unfold and persistent in your desire to work through the necessary process. And, like a budding artist, hopefully the end result of your hard work and perseverance will enable you to step back and honestly assess what you have accomplished.

Here are two seemingly opposing views but actually, they work in concert: 1) talking, sharing and being open with others can help alleviate some of the strain. “Griefs, when they wound in solitude, wound more deeply.” Yet, 2) silence can be a very powerful response to this trip you did not want. Becoming contemplative and silent can help you focus on what you can possibly find in all this…each has their place. 

The Unveiling can help begin the process of acceptance and closure.

At times such as this, conversations with G-d can bring a new light and allow a semblance of calm. Saying Tehillim — alone or with a group — can bring some spiritual comfort to your soul and peacefulness to the mind. Joining/participating in a Rosh Chodesh Group can also do wonders for your spiritual side. Being part of a minyan has a new dimension when you can truly appreciate its importance to a mourner. Being part of a shul can bring a sense of warmth and companionship and community. When one says the Mourner’s Kaddish or observes a Yahrzeit  — every year hence, these traditional acts are a meaningful — if not necessary — adjunct in your trip down memory lane. 

Of course these actions cannot begin to take the place of the dear loved one, but it is the beginning of allowing yourself to find your new place in your new life without them. Sadly, this journey has no end. This trip has no final destination. There is no finish line, and there is no end in sight.

BUT, in spite of the fact that you will very likely be visiting and revisiting these towns off and on forever more, there is a goal: That goal is to reach the town of ACCEPTANCE.

It is in this town that you meet up with “YOU” again…you meet yourself face to face, as in — this is who I am and this is what it is that I need to do to be back on the road of “MY own life’s journey”. This, in essence, is the mission Hashem has blessed you with — the ability to appreciate your own life as fully as possible, just as your loved one AND Hashem would desire. B H – you are here and it is your sacred life to enjoy.

When you find you can acknowledge your loss while making a conscious choice to allow joy to reenter your life, when you can once again have your spouse, your children and grandchildren and friends and co-workers and YOU be the focus of the day — then, instead of holding you back, your memories of your loved one will help you move forward  — to embrace life. 

I pray that your journey is not too bumpy and that you reach your goal in due time.

May their memory be for a blessing!

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