Why Can’t I Emotionally Cope With the Loss of My Son?
My intellectual brain and my emotional heart are worlds apart. Understanding something and emotionally internalizing it are two separate realms that, in me, are totally disconnected from one another.
Intellectually I know that my dear son, Jacob, is living a life in the spiritual world and is happy. It is a fundamental Jewish belief, that after a person dies, the soul moves on to the spiritual realm and continues its life there. I firmly believe this.
So why is it that, at times, I’m unable to emotionally cope with him not being here. Why is it so hard for me to just say that he’s fine and happy, and move on with my life?
Concern With the Body is My Default Mode
A part of the answer is that I’m body focused and not soul focused. I place too much emphasis on the physical body as playing the primary role in life. It’s only natural that I view my body as primary. I can’t do anything without it, so my default mode of living is to be concerned with my body and not my soul. I’m thus associating Jacob’s body with who he is as a person. However, that’s a backward way of viewing the relationship between body and soul. As I said in my post, How I’m Coping with the Loss of My Adult Son:
“…The soul thus comprises a person’s whole essence. It’s who they are. When Jacob was physically here, we would have many pleasant conversations. But I wasn’t really talking to his body, I was speaking to his soul because that’s who he truly is.”
The Rivalry Between Body and Soul
The Torah teaches us that our primary focus should be the soul, not the body. This is stated very clearly in Parsha Re’eh where we find one of the Jewish laws of mourning:
“You are children to the L-rd, your G-d. You shall not cut yourselves and you shall not make a bald spot between your eyes for a dead person.” ( Deuteronomy 14:1 )
Historically, we find that different cultures had various customs when they lost a loved one. Some mourning practices included slashing the body or pulling out one’s hair. The Torah cautions us not to do this. But why?
The Purpose of the Body
When a person physically harms oneself from excessive grief due to the loss of a loved one, they are demonstrating the belief that the person, soul and body, is totally lost forever. ( I’m not speaking here of one who behaves this way to due mental illness, which is beyond the scope of this article.)
Rabbi Zvi Belovski in his book, Shem MiShmuel, presents a compelling insight from Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein ( 1855-1927 ) on why we do not harm ourselves when someone dies. Rabbi Bornstein asks an interesting question. He points out that while the soul resumes life in Heaven, the body is buried, seemingly lost to the soil. It’s the soul that lives on, not the body. ( Right now, we are not dealing with the topic of bodily resurrection. ) So if a person harms his body in grief, why is that so bad?
Rabbi Bornstein answers that the grieving person demonstrates a misunderstanding of the body’s purpose. The soul, as the primary entity, has a job to do in this physical world. But it can’t do it alone. It needs the body to achieve its goal. Although the body is needed, it is still subservient to the soul, and as such, takes on a secondary status. When a person passes away, the soul returns to G-d. The body, no longer needed, is buried. The mourner, in his distorted view of the body’s function, feels that the body has a purpose of its own and cannot bear the thought that it no longer exists.
Loving the Soul Equals Loving Others
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812 ) in Tanya, Likkutei Amarim chapter 32, explains that being soul focused is what enables us to truly love another person. He equates love of the soul with love of one’s fellow. He points out that the soul of each person has its source in G-d and only our bodies separate us from one another. Therefore, Rabbi Shneur Zalman says:
“…in the case of those whose body is their main concern while regarding their souls of secondary importance, there is not true love and brotherhood among them, but only a love which depends on a transitory thing.”
In other words, when we look only at the outside of a person, the love we feel for that person is not a real love but is dependent on what that person can do for us, or what pleasure we get from that person. And this type of love is not permanent, because when we no longer obtain what we want from that person, the love ceases.
When we place primary emphasis on the soul, we now view ourselves and others as they truly are, souls rooted in one Source. From this viewpoint, it’s now very easy to have true love for each other as Rabbi Shneur Zalman says:
“…finding joy only in the joy of the soul alone is a straightforward and easy way to fulfill the commandment ‘You shall love your fellow as yourself’…”
I’ve Lost My Son Physically But Not Spiritually
Becoming a soul focused person is not an easy task. Each day we are bombarded with physical distractions that hinder us from attending to the health of our souls. One of the ways I’m working on this is to seclude myself each evening and talk to G-d. To connect with my Creator is so important for a healthy soul. Whether I devote a few minutes or much longer, any time I spend focusing on my soul is extremely helpful for my spiritual wellbeing.
And then I talk to Jacob. It doesn’t matter what I talk about. I ask him what he’s doing. I ask him if he’s with Grandma and Grandpa. Just calling his name or telling him how my day went helps make his presence so much more real to me.
I’ve also found comfort in Rabbi Bornstein’s quote from the Zohar telling us that we need not worry about our loved one who has left this physical world:
“…for he is not lost after death, he is found in good, exalted, and dear worlds.”