Judaism Your Way


Blessing for the Brokenhearted

Blessing for the Brokenhearted
By Amy Leszman

Grief, along with death, seem to have been constant companions for many of us these last few years. With coronavirus rampaging across the world and death tolls rising, we have become more familiar, or perhaps even more desensitized, to the overwhelming loss of life. Grief has been close to me these last few months, in particular with the loss of a beloved family dog, a relationship, and of a close friend – all while grappling with the pandemic – has been especially overwhelming and challenging. However, I am comforted by, and have found much solace in, Jewish grieving rituals. Relying on traditions that reach back to biblical times provides a solid ground, a connectedness, with grief and the generations that have traveled this time-worn path before me.

This past week, Judaism Your Way began its first of a four-part series, Before the Mourning, that delves deep into a topic many of us avoid: the inevitability of death. Led by Rabbi Amanda Schwartz and Jamie Sarche, Director of Pre-Planning at Feldman’s Mortuary, the first session focused on the theme of “Talking About Death Won’t Kill You.” We reflected on how the topic of death is shunned in our society because it is the one true fate that awaits us all. We reflected on the feeling that so few people know how to handle or support our grief. We reflected on why we are only just now learning to talk about death; much like how we have progressed to talking about sex more openly and honestly, so are we opening up about death and grief. We now talk about Living Wills, End of Life Pre-planning, and how we want our remains to be handled, underscoring that how we embrace our inevitable end is evolving.

But what about the change within ourselves – with our own grief and understanding of death? The day after the Before the Mourning session, I attended the monthly Kaddish Circle hosted by Rabbi Caryn Aviv. Differing from the previous night’s program, the Kaddish Circle gathering is meant for folks to come together as a shared-grief space to talk about our losses. That very morning, I had attended the funeral, on Zoom, of a beloved friend. I held her close as I listened to other attendees discuss dealing with the loss of their loved ones, whether a spouse, a child, or a friend. We created space for our grief: didn’t tell anyone that it would get better with time, or that we were so strong, or brave, or would be okay. Because the truth is, I think, so many of us feel that we are not those things and will never be again. Others noted that such comments, offered in kindness, attempt to hide the ugly face of grief and the ongoing pain of loss. But then, the reminder comes: in Jewish tradition,  we put our grief on display because our mourning rituals call on the community to support the bereaved.

Traditionally, Jews sit shiva for seven days following a burial. We sit low on the ground, cover our mirrors, and visitors stop by in endless rounds to offer their words of condolence. It is exhausting. But it is also comforting: your community showing up for you, providing you with meals, participating in your grief. Many go on to observe sheloshim, the second period of mourning, for another 21 days following shiva. And the mourning continues – Jews wait until the eleventh monthly following a death to have an unveiling ceremony, placing a headstone at the gravesite.

These rituals guide us through our loss, through our grief. They welcome it in and offer it a seat, knowing full well that the journey looks vastly different for each of us. We, as a society, are learning to talk about death, which I sincerely hope leads to more compassion and understanding around grief. The mourning process varies for each of us, and many of us will never be the people we once were before the loss. Our lives were forever changed not only by the relationship we shared, but with the sudden hole where that relationship used to be – it only makes sense that we would be different.

I leave you with a poem that we wrestled with in Kaddish Circle, and encourage you to endeavor to understand your own grief, or the grief of a loved one, more deeply:

Blessing for the Brokenhearted by Jan Richardson

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still,

as if it trusts
that its own
persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us

Amy Leszman
Development & Grants Senior Manager