Running Away From Grief

Shabbat With My Son

A Pleasant and Happy Family Table

The Friday night Shabbat meal was always a special time for our family. When the kids were small, we looked forward to discussing the Torah portion of the week, and of course looked forward to the yummy food, especially the dessert. Then the kids grew up. For quite awhile my husband and I were alone in an empty house. It was really nice when Jacob decided to move back in with us while he was studying to go to law school. His presence once again enhanced our Friday night meal. 

Jacob would sit at the Shabbat table with his silver kiddush cup in front of him as we all sang Shalom Alechem. My husband then recited Ashes Chayil. When he got to the part “ …Her children rise up and make her happy…” I would glance at Jacob and smile. Afterward, Jacob would rise and stand before his father. My husband would place his hand on his head and recite the special blessing we give to our sons on Shabbat:

“May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menasseh. May the L-rd bless you and watch over you. May the L-rd cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you. May the L-rd raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.”

Father and son would hug each other and then my husband made kiddish.

That’s how it was. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s not how it is now.

Shabbat Without My Son

A Quiet and Lonely Meal

Now, our Shabbat is quiet and lonely. During Ashes Chayil, I look at Jacob’s empty seat and say softly, ‘Jacob, you made me very happy.’ After reciting Ashes Chayil, there’s a slight pause as if it’s time for Jacob to receive his father’s blessing. Then we remember, oh yeah, he’s not here. My husband proceeds with kiddush. 

You see, on that Shabbat morning seven months ago, Jacob suddenly passed away. Since then, every Shabbat, my mind relives that terrible morning. Sights and sounds come flooding back in a disorganized array of emotions ranging from disbelief to wrenching sadness. I try not to think about it but at some point my mind keeps going back to that day. His bedroom is empty. The upstairs is quiet. I think about him constantly. Simply put, it’s getting harder and harder for me to enjoy Shabbat. 

So what should I do? How can I lessen my emotional pain every Friday night and all day Saturday? 

I’m Not Giving Up On What’s Inherently Good

I’m Not Giving Up On Shabbat

I know a mother whose son passed away around the same age as Jacob. The boy left this world on Passover.  His mom decided not to celebrate the holiday any longer because the memory is too painful. There are those who would tell me to give up Shabbat because it reminds me of such unpleasantness. They reason that if the rituals of Shabbat make me sad, get rid of it. However, an old expression comes to mind: 

‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater’. 

This idiom, deriving from an old German proverb, means we shouldn’t eliminate something good when trying to eliminate something bad.

What’s So Special About Shabbat?

Why is Shabbat so precious? In the words of essayist Ahad Ha’Am (1856-1927):

“More than the Jewish People have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.”

G-d wants the Jewish people to keep Shabbat. While we don’t know all the reasons for this, we do know that keeping Shabbat is for our benefit. By doing so, we acknowledge that He is the Creator, He loves us and cares for us. Shabbat connects us to G-d and to other Jews. Shabbat is an island in time. Twenty five hours of putting everything aside and just being with my Creator. No work, no paying bills, no looking at the news on the internet. (There’s never any good news anyway.) I don’t have to do anything or be anywhere. I wish it could be like this all the time. I just wish Jacob was here. 

I’m not going to get rid of Shabbat because it evokes unhappy memories. The benefits of observing Shabbat are too much to give up. G-d has a reason and a timeline for everything. If He wanted to take Jacob back on Shabbat, that was the best time to do it. Jacob must have a very special soul. Shabbat is just too beautiful and too precious to throw away. 

Enjoying Shabbat Again

Am I Avoiding Grief?

A neighbor recently told me ‘Your house is too quiet. You need some joy in it.’ Humans are social by nature. One of the keys to a happy life is to be around other people. We are so fortunate to have one of our sons and his family living thirty minutes away. So we’ve asked them to spend Shabbat with us. Observing Shabbat with my son, daughter-in-law and little grandson is truly a blessing. The sounds of conversation and of the baby bring happiness to the whole house. 

And yes, after Shabbat is over and everyone goes home, I’m still in the same empty house without Jacob. It’s still painful.

I don’t want to forget about Jacob. I just want to lessen the pain, and if I can do that even for a short time it’s worth it.

Don’t Throw Out the Baby With the Bathwater

Making It Work

It’s natural to associate any event with a particular place and time, or even a particular person. So many things, which started out as neutral, or even elicited feelings of joy, are are relegated to something we’d rather forget. When a loved one passes away, especially a child, the place and time may become etched in our minds as something inherently bad. So much so in fact, that we want to reject that particular place and time altogether. 

However, rejection may not be a wise choice. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Shabbat. It’s just that my outlook is skewed. So too, each person needs to sift through their emotions and determine if something or someone they once viewed as good should now be rejected. I truly hope that the mom who decided not to observe Passover will change her mind and reclaim the intrinsic goodness in the holiday.

What ever it is, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Try and make it work.

Running Away From Grief

It’s Not A Solution But It’s Better Than Nothing

I wish I could get out of mourning mode, constantly thinking about my son and how he passed away. I’m afraid that if I stop mourning him I’ll forget him. There’s an expression ‘time heals’. I seriously doubt that’s completely true for a parent who lost a child. But maybe there’s some truth in it as far as making the emotions less intense. Maybe after a long while I’ll be able to remember him while at the same time not be so sorrowful.

Am I just creating a diversion by surrounding myself with other people or maybe even going to other places to push away unhappy memories? Can I ignore reality by closing my eyes? Am I running away from the terrible fact that Jacob is no longer physically here?

Maybe. But for now, it’s ok to run away.

9 thoughts on “Running Away From Grief

      1. I am somewhat torn about sharing links on your blog because I don’t want to coopt your grief and make it “about me”, but on the other hand I feel like you might appreciate some of my reflections as a Jew who has deliberately been grieving Jewishly.

        If you feel that I am intruding into your virtual/ personal/ etc. space, please let me know, and I will stop.

        Anyway, I just wrote this, and… well… I thought you might appreciate it: https://skepticskaddish.com/2020/10/13/together-or-eventually/

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      2. Thank you for your input. The description of the yartzeit candle conjures up compelling imagery and can be interpreted in many different ways. In the future, I’d prefer that your comments directly relate to the subject matter of my post. For example, I’d be interested in knowing how a person might deal with uncomfortable situations as a result of their grief. And please, only one external link per post. Thanks for visiting. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Absolutely – I just tend to feel a strong connection with [Jewish] mourners so I got excited.

        In terms of uncomfortable situations (Shabbat conjuring up difficult emotions, memories, etc.), I’m a father of a young daughter so it would be hard for me to let go of it and other fundamental Jewish traditions – because I don’t perceive this to be entirely about me.

        However, being her father also limited my ability to mourn traditionally during that first year (ma’ariv would often conflict with putting her to bed). Initially, that was really hard for me because I wanted to mourn the “right” way, but I eventually accepted it… and I actually think that experience has informed all of the religious decisions that I’ve made since then.

        In terms of why I said that you seem “strong” – it’s because if I didn’t have a child for whom I was observing traditions, I’m far from certain that I would continue with the ones that pained me. I think it’s… very telling that you do.

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  1. Dearest Sister,
    I too have lost a Daughter in her adult years… I am not Jewish but my husband of blessed memory was… I have no words of wisdom to share, just a heart scarred so deeply that I know not how it continues to beat. She was the light of all our lives…One day after five horrible days of despair in a row, the Lord spoke to me and said, “You’ll see her again in the resurrection” I am holding on to that. I will hold you up in prayer dear Sister…2/28/12

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  2. I just discovered your site. I am so sorry for the loss of your Jacob.I lost my son Ilan, who had cystic fibrosis, at the age of 26 This December will be 20 yrs.- impossible to imagine. Ilan also passed on Shabbos. It took a long time, but I learned, that whenever I would have memories of Ilan, sick and in hospital, for example. I would then begin to think of happy times spent together. I turned all sad thoughts- into happy thoughts. It made it so much easier for me. Ilan is with me every minute of everyday. May we see our beloved sons very soon with the coming of Moshiach.

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