Many parents visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) for advice and comfort after losing their child. The Rebbe would respond with patience and empathy, giving words of consolation and encouragement. Here are some of the Rebbe’s insights on the terrible tragedy of child loss. (What follows are not actual quotes, but merely a summary of the Rebbe’s words.)
What is G-d’s Plan?
Making Up Lost Years and An Ascent for the Soul
Why did G-d take my child back so soon? Why didn’t G-d give him or her a chance to marry, have children, have a full life? What is G-d’s plan? The answer is: ‘We don’t know’. G-d gives each person a set number of years to live in this world. Only in extreme cases is it possible for someone to lengthen their life, or do the opposite with some terrible sin, G-d forbid.
Most souls coming into this world are incarnations of those who lived previously. Their task is to complete what was lacking in their previous life. It is almost certain that those who die young are here to complete the number of years they lacked.
The soul’s return to heaven is a great spiritual ascent for the soul. The loss is only for the bereaved left behind. To some extent, the soul also feels some sadness in that they know their family is saddened at their departure.
Bereaved Parents and Feelings of Guilt
Is There Something I Could Have Done So My Child Would Be Alive Now?
Sometimes we feel that if we had only done such and such, our child would still be here. Thoughts of ‘would have, could have, and should have’ torture us. When families are responsible and loving, they need to know that they did everything they could to help their child. The rest was beyond their control. Ultimately, everything is in G-d’s hands.
Parent and Child Are Always Connected
The Bond is Forever
The soul lives forever, and so the bond between parent and child is also forever. Even though we can’t physically see our child, our child sees us. The soul is very much alive in the upper realms and still cares about family and friends in this world. Just as we cared for our child when he or she was here, we can still do things for our child after they have passed on.
Doing acts of kindness for others, learning G-d’s Torah, offering words of encouragement to those who need it – these are all things which give the departed soul immense pleasure and enables the soul to reach greater spiritual heights in Heaven. When we connect the memory of our child with a physical action, it’s as if the child is still here having a palpable effect in this physical world.
Why Am I Grieving if My Child is Happy in Heaven?
We’re Only Human
Since our child is now relieved of all physical pain and is happy being even closer to G-d than before, why mourn at all? Why should we be sad knowing that our child is happy? Do we not believe in the immortality of the soul? Do we not believe G-d knows what He’s doing?
G-d knows we are human. We can no longer hear, see, or feel our child in this world. We can no longer connect with our child on a physical level and we are saddened by this. G-d expects us to have feelings of grief. That is why the Torah directs us to observe rituals of mourning for a set period of time to give us an outlet for our feelings of loss, sadness, and confusion over the death of a loved one.
Is My Child Sad If I’m Happy?
As bereaved parents, we think that our child will feel slighted or saddened if we find happiness in our lives. We may feel that if our grief lessens, we’ll forget our child. Although this feeling is natural, this is not the case at all.
We must remember that our child sees and hears what’s happening with the family in this world. If our child sees that we are sad and miserable beyond the time prescribed by the Torah for such mourning, then the child is sad as well. Conversely, when we have resumed a normal and productive life, the child can truly be happy in heaven. As far as forgetting our child, we need not worry. We’ll never forget our child. As said earlier, the bond between parent and child is forever, and will never be lessened by the passage of time.
I Can’t Stop Grieving Over The Loss of My Child
What Should I Do?
After his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, passed away, the Rebbe asked: How can our understanding minds reconcile with a hurting heart? How can our grief be healed by the time bound rituals of mourning that the Torah dictates?
Our intellect understands that grief has a timeline. Our grief further away from the time of the tragedy should be less intense than in the days and weeks which came earlier. Our emotional heart does not accept this timeline. Feelings of grief may be unabated after weeks, months, or even years.
However, G‑d wants us to make the transition from a mourner to a productive member of our family and community. We must be in touch with the needs of our family as well as our own needs. Our families need us to be fully functioning individuals. We need to do this for our own physical and mental health as well.
How do we do this? By becoming active in a productive endeavor that we enjoy. The bereaved parents should make every effort to spread the light of G-dliness in the world by doing acts of goodness and kindness. Any act we do in memory of our child should not be done with sadness, but with joy. In this way, we become a positive example to our family and others.
It’s How We Deal With Grief That Matters
I would like to summarize the Rebbe’s advice as follows: Sadness and grief is a normal, human reaction to child loss. What is crucial is how we deal with our grief. The Rebbe does not want our grief to consume us to the point where we cannot physically and emotionally function properly. The Rebbe always emphasized that ‘doing’ is the best therapy we have for our emotional wellbeing. May we all find appropriate outlets to express our grief and to embark upon lasting endeavors for the memory of our children.