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Moorings, Initial Issue - Rabbi Vicki Hollander

Moorings, after Shloshim

Rooting yourself as you walk in grief

I'm like an olive tree in Your house.
Resting in Your care.

-Adapted Psalm. 52:10

vicki-initial-trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Symbol of Sustenance: Trees

Trees reach deep into earth,
offering you an anchor at this time in your life.
While the Tree of Life, mirrored in your body,
holds your soul.

These step forward now for you to hold onto.
To aid you as you walk as mourner.

This Initial Period of Bereavement

Shivah and shloshim at an end.  You now continue forward into your first year of mourning.

Some feel numb, frozen.
Some, hyperactive, restless. 

There can be a lingering sense of the surreal, like being in a dream. 
You may find yourself going through the motions of what needs to be done.

Some liken sudden death to a door slamming shut, and anticipated death, to a door shutting slowly.
You may experience both feelings simultaneously.

You are bereaved, whose roots stem from the word 'robbery'.
The person with whom your life was intertwined, stolen from you.

Many instinctively tuck inward.
Some feel intense physical pain, in the chest, in the heart, tightness in the throat.
As if a part of their body is missing.
Some lose their appetites, others gain appetite. You may experience each at different times.

Many feel numb, and focus on the immediate tasks that need be done:
the paperwork, decisions that need be made, work that must be responded to,
activities that must be maintained. 

For many after the tasks from the death are completed, a thawing of feeling takes place.

alon2-initialmooringsI spread out my hands
to You.
My soul is as
a weary land.
Help me,
my spirit fails.

For in You do I trust.
Cause me to know
the way to walk.
For to You
do I lift up my soul
.

-Adapted Psalm 143:6,7a,8b

Common Grief Reactions and Tips on Coping

Classic works describe reactions, "normal" responses to grief:

Shock and Denial
"I can't believe this is happening.  I feel like I''m in a bad dream."

Anger, Guilt, and Regret
"Why is this happening to me? Why him/her? If only I or s/he had done "x" maybe this could have been
prevented."

Bargaining
"If everything could just go back to normal, I promise I will..."

Tears
"This is all too much, I just can't cope with this."

Despair, Depression, and Resignation
"Everything seems empty. It feels like there's nothing to live for."

You may move in and out of these feelings and thoughts. 
Not all are experienced by everyone, nor do they neatly progress from one to the other
and then leave, completed.

But knowing that these are natural responses to loss can help you to not be frightened by them
should they rise.

Important Tasks During This Time

Rest
Mourning takes a lot of energy. 
For many sleep can be problematic. 
Watch for having caffeine after lunch time.  Exercise. Take warm baths before bedtime.
Create an evening wind-down ritual. Try going to sleep before 10:00 p.m. 
If you're worried about depression and/or sleep, consult with someone who's familiar with grief responses.

Simplify
Attend to the basics: Eating nutritiously. Sleeping. Exercising regularly. And doing what you need to
for your most bottom line responsibilities.
The rest can wait.

Mourning's hard work, and can feel like and be, a full-time job in itself.
Claim this time for yourself. Allow yourself to truly have and be in this time.

Some people limit their activities for this first year, letting people know they're walking as mourner and
are simplifying their lives for this time period.

Drive carefully
Feelings and memories often rise powerfully when you drive. 
Many find themselves weeping in their cars, forgetting momentarily where they're headed. 
It's easy to miss stop signs and to drive through red lights.

You're more prone to accidents this first year. Your reflexes are slower and your attention may wander.
Take extra care when driving.

Get answers to questions surrounding the illness or time of death that you find yourself returning to
again and again

If there were issues that occurred that were not OK, address these.
If you've medical questions, get the information you need.
If there were things that happened that were not OK, gather information first.
Then simply and clearly write down your suggestions and concerns to several of the involved parties. 
Note specifics, times, dates, and what exactly occurred.

You may need to write the letter you'd like to write and then save it. 
Then a few days later write a letter that will be 'heard.'

At the least, addressing the experiences that did not work as you felt they should have
may help those who follow after you.
And you'll know that you articulated and documented what you experienced.

Have patience with yourself
Be as kind and understanding to yourself as you would be towards a dear friend.

Your world is different now.
It takes more time than you imagine to absorb on all levels the full extent of your loss.

Some people have to learn new skills, take on new roles, and create new routines. 
The stress of these are great. 

There's a gap in your life now.  
Sometimes you may need to shut down for a while just to cope. 
This will change.
Respect your need to slow, turn inward, and to stop at times.

Make time for your physical checkups
Many when giving care set aside their own self care. 
Have your annual physical. Catch up on your dental care.
Look after yourself on all levels.

Refrain from making any significant changes in your life
The golden rule is to not make any major changes this year.

At the same time, some people may need to make changes.
For example, financial necessities may force a shift. 
Generally, this isn't a time to add additional stress, however each person's situation is unique.

Remember, once some changes are made they can not be undone.
So move carefully.
If you're unsure of a direction and you are able, put off decisions until that time
when you strongly feel within yourself that direction feels right for your life now,
and you feel strong enough to meet any unexpected twists that may arise along with that change.

It's natural to feel a little crazy at times
Transitions and losses can plummet us into crazy time.

Previous routines may be gone.
Irritability, strong emotions, and a lack of concentration are common grief responses.
These intensify with sleep deprivation.

Our culture is quite ignorant of and has many misconceptions about grief.
Even professionals whom we expect to be knowledgeable about grief
sometimes have a great deal of misinformation about the mourning process.

Should you feel concerned about your reactions
check them out with someone who's had extensive contact with those who are mourning.
A seasoned Bereavement coordinator on staff with your Hospice team who's had
years of contact with mourners is often a reliable resource.

 

kathy-initial-mtansTurn to me
and be gracious to me.

For I am all alone
and afflicted.

The troubles of my heart
are enlarged.

Bring me out of my
distress.

-Psalm 25: 16,17

 

Natural Questions and Responses

How can I stop the pain?

Emotionally, spiritually, you may long for the pain to leave.
Yet intellectually, in your gut, you know the pain need be. 
It stands as testimony to your relationship,
the ways your life has intertwined with the person you grieve.

As grief is tended, the pain lessens in duration and frequency.
This differs however, for the loss of a child.

Are there any shortcuts to working grief? If I work really hard can I get this grieving done
more quickly?

It's a natural desire for this process to be 'gone through' more quickly.

Yet within, you know that grief takes its own time.
You know you need be with it, in it. That it need speak to you. That it will teach you things.
It holds lessons, instructions, and power.

Is it normal to have nightmares and/or dreams of my loved one who died?

Some do have dreams or feel the presence of their loved one.
Sometimes these can be comforting, sometimes painful.

I really want to dream of or feel the presence of my loved one, but this hasn't happened.
What does this mean?

Despite longing, some people do not experience dreams of their loved ones nor sense their presence.
Some wonder if they did something wrong that this isn't happening for them, 
and feelings of being unloved can rise.

We don't understand why dreaming does or doesn't happen,
but we do know that if one doesn't dream of a loved one this doesn't reflect on the quality of the relationship held.

Sometimes I feel relief that this is over. Then I feel terrible and guilty.
How do people deal with these feelings?

Some people have been giving care to their loved one for many days, months or years, 
being available and alert, "on call" twenty-four hours a day/ seven days a week. 
Some people haven't slept through the night for a very long time, just listening for their loved one,
needing to wake to administer medications, or see to their loved one's safety.
Some have suffered deeply watching their loved ones in pain, not being able to their pain away.

Death can be a tremendous loss as well as a relief and release. 
Our relationships are complex. The times of illness so fraught with tension, anxiety and uncertainty
that this process is naturally an intricate and complicated one.

I look at others around me and see they are handling their grief so differently than I am. 
Why is my mourning so different?

Your relationship is unique. Your time spent with your loved one, your life structure,
your support system, the rhythm of your days. 
And each person has their own ways of coping with pain.

We mourn differently at different times, and move in and out of different stages in our own distinct ways. 
Each person carves out their own pathway.
Summon up gentleness. For yourself and for those around you.

I feel haunted by images of my loved one when they were ill and/or dying. 
I want to remember them as they were in health and in my life.
Are there ways of handling this?

Often the more you struggle against difficult pictures within you, the more they seem to stay.

Take out photographs of your loved one that you love, that capture their spirits. 
Tell your favorite stories of them. Speak of what was dear to you about them. 
In time, these last images will be balanced by the others and their intensity will diminish.

I didn't get to say goodbye to my loved one.
There was no opportunity to tell them that I loved them.

Sometimes circumstances don't allow us to be there as we might have wanted to be. 
Sometimes even if present, the person dying is deeply into their own route and not available
in ways we may want, need or hope for.

You may have to say goodbye, tell the person you loved them in the months and seasons after their death.

Some speak these aloud as it rises within them.  Some journal.  Some speak these words to a trusted friend.

This too can be an ongoing process.
You may need to say goodbye on many levels in these months, and years ahead,
over and over again for different parts and aspects of your relationship,
as you yourself move into different junctures of mourning, and into different periods of your life.

At times I think of harsh words I said, or times of impatience during my loved ones illness
or before their death and feel horribly about this. Are there helpful ways to deal with this?

It's easy to forget the incredible pressures of living with one who's ill over a long period of time.
The extreme stress, the ongoing lifestyle of medical  problems and emergencies. 

We often forget the powerful impact of the lack of sleep, the tensions of navigating the unknown
during the course of the illness, managing the spikes of pain, hospitalizations, and the uncertainties of the dying process,
for the person ill, for ourselves, and for our families.

Even for seasoned health care professionals there are always the wild-cards
of how things will unfold for that particular person that are unknown until they happen.

And our loved ones too are sometimes frightened, exhausted, impacted by medication,
shifting their attention elsewhere, and can be as well sometimes harsh in words.

Just in the course of living everyday life there are strains and stresses that pull us every which way
and sometimes carry both us and our loved ones to speak sharply to each other.

Many who grieve pinpoint moments when they were impatient with their loved one,
going over and over those times in their minds.
Forgetting to keep in sight the whole vista of all that has been taking place,
all the many times when they were there, giving love, attention, and devotedly caring. 

It's like only seeing the tiny dot on the large page.
The art now is remembering the entire page.

I'm very worried about my children. How can I help them with their grief?

You are their role model, teacher and guide. They'll take their cues from you.
Grieve in your own way. Let them see your sadness, your tears.

Young children and teens need to hear it's OK to have sad feelings.
It is important to tell them that you are OK. That you are mourning. And that this is what people do
when they mourn.

Welcome their questions. Children often wonder about many different things. 
If they ask a question make sure you understand what it is that they are asking before you respond.
Sometimes their real question may not be what it initially sounds like.

Young children often express their grief through play or art, and often say quick one liners.
Children need to know that they did not cause the death through their thoughts or actions. 
They need to know that they were and are loved.

If they suffered the loss of a parent, often they fear the death of their surviving parent, and are scared
that they'll be all alone in the world if their remaining parent dies, no matter what their age.
They need reassurances that they'll be cared for and that they won't be left alone
in the world without a caring adult present for them.

Groups for children and teens who are working their grief with peers and in their unique ways are invaluable.
Seeking Hospice bereavement groups specific to children and teens can make an enormous difference.

Some teens choose to involve themselves in the arts, in music, art, writing. 
Some immerse themselves in sports. Some turn to their coaches, teachers, or school counselors for support. 
Being in touch with schools, day-care administrators and teachers is essential.

Adult children too often benefit from support.  Check your local Hospice for bereavement resources.

Alon trees initial

 

I have called You.
Make haste to me.

-Psalm 141:1b

 

 

 

 

Resources
for Comfort and Support:

You may feel a deep need for comfort,
support,  heartening, and solace.
Some of these resources may respond to
what you are needing,  some may not.
Sometimes nothing fits. 
But having these in your "toolkit" may aid you walk in this time.

Poetry Collections:

  • Gendler, J. Ruth. Changing Light. Scranton, PA: Harper Perennial, 1991
  • Oliver, Mary. Dream Work. NY: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986
  • Sewell, Marilyn. editor, Cries of the Spirit. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991
  • Wood, Nancy. Many Winters. NY: Doubleday, 1974

Daily Brief Meditations-readings about grief:

Hickman, Martha Whitmore. Healing After Loss. NY: Avon Books,1994.

The arts: music, art work, crafting:

Many find moving into sound, color, contact with mediums of clay, wood, paint, wool, herbs, journaling,
or writing poetry, offers respite and another route towards expression.

Time in nature:

For some, nature soothes, comforts.
A daily walk outside. Moving, feeling the air stir, may give you something. 
Observing the skies, the light, the changing seasons, may infuse the day with beauty,
touching heart and soul, the psalmist long ago understood this well.
Some find weeding, planting, touching soil, feeling the earth in their fingers, deeply comforts.
Some leave gardens previously sown, barren for a while, their energy and heart absent. 

Spiritual Resources:

Our tradition's rhythmic rituals can also offer healing:
daily prayer, weekly shabbat observance,
the monthly marking of the approaching new moon,
and the seasonal teachings of each holiday.

Some who mourn have rich Jewish connections in a spiritual community. 
Some haven't yet found a place in the Jewish community where they feel nourished
and feel too vulnerable or weary to seek community at this time.
Others feel displaced from where they formerly "belonged." 
While yet others find this time offers a spiritual doorway for return and exploration.

Some wrestle with spiritual issues, feel anger towards God. 
Others feel a thirst for ancient sources of nourishment, but may be put off by politics or dynamics
within congregations. 
While others find their ways to approach study anew.
Exploring Psalms, Torah study, the beauty of the siddur, prayerbook may fill the soul.

The following meditations I wrote to help me enter more deeply into my morning prayers.
Use them or adapt them should they touch you.

Meditation before the first blessing of the Shema, Yotzeir Or:

Opening Your gate of light:
Open my heart,
open my soul,
that I might feel Your light shine upon me, and
rise up from within me.

Meditation before the second blessing of the Shema, Ahavah Rabbah:

Opening Your gate of love:
Open my heart,
open my soul,
that I may feel Your love rise up all around me, and
hold and embrace me this day.
From this place of loving, may You guide me in this new day of life.

You may also wish to access other resources on this site: prayers
*for each Hebrew month: click here
*for each holy day: click here
*for morning and evening, for Shabbat and weekday: click here

alon-initial-woodsWhen you lie among the sheepfolds
the wings of the dove
are covered with silver,
and her pinions
with the shimmer of gold.

Blessed be You,
Who day by day carries us.
You are our help.
You help us be.

-Adapted, Psalm 68:14,20,21a

 Take good care.

You may wish to prepare for the next upcoming holiday or check back with the 3rd month newsletter.
Gentle walking to you.

 

Guide to Hebrew words

Shivah: "sitting", first seven days of mourning, with special observances

Shloshim: "thirty", including shivah, also holding special observances

Siddur: "prayerbook"

Yotzeir Or: "Who Creates Light", first blessing of the Shema found in morning prayer

Ahavah Rabbah:"Great Love", second blessing of the Shema found in morning prayer

 

Photography Credits

First photograph: Vicki Hollander
Second, fourth, and fifth photographs : Alon Kvashny
Third photograph: Kathy Berendt