Thursday, September 28, 2017

Seeing Thestrals - Initiation Into a New Fellowship

This post is dedicated to the blessed memory of those my friends loved dearly: Chieyna Miyza bat Moshe, Eliezer Yosef Chaim ben Avraham, Chaim ben Emmanuel v’Chava

After witnessing the death of Cedric Diggory during the Tri-Wizard Tournament the previous year, Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts and a new reality: he can see thestrals, the mythical beasts that pull the “magical carriages” from the train to the castle.  This new development brings him into fellowship with Luna Lovegood and other students who can personally understand the suffering Harry has experienced as a result of his loss.  Harry’s new reality, marked by both physical and metaphorical “seeing,” sets him apart from his friends who still believe that the carriages move on their own.  Harry, on the other side of suffering knows that there is a limit even to magic.  It is this realization that makes the world at once less secure and more valuable than ever before.

So too, suffering the loss of a close relative is the high cost of membership to a new club of those who have experienced the death of a loved one.  There are no words to describe how one’s world is tilted on its axis and nothing will ever be the same again.  My brother’s friend remarked during shiva that “it doesn’t get better, just different.”   The pain may dull with time, but then return as sharp as ever when least expected.  There’s nothing anyone can say or do to take away the pain, but fellowship with those who understand can offer a modicum of security in a world that has suddenly become unreliable.  

A few important things my friends have taught me:

  • You are not a performer. Humans need time, space and permission to grieve. Give yourself permission to be human.
  • It may help to find an outlet -
    • Talking: to a family member, a sympathetic friend, a club member who is farther along in their process, or a bereavement group
    • An activity: crafts, exercise, prayer, etc.
    • Writing: journaling, blogging, emailing friends/relatives
    • Reading: Many books have been written from different perspectives on death, loss, kaddish, and resilience. You may find one or several that speak to you.
  • Don't be afraid to speak up and say what you need. Most people genuinely want to help and will appreciate you telling them what you want (or don't want). It eliminates the guesswork for them and helps you at the same time.
  • There are resources available both in your community and online.  Community professionals (rabbis, social workers, etc.) can help direct you to opportunities for counseling, bereavement groups, web forums and other services that may help you process your many feelings.
  • “Strong” has many different faces.  Cry, laugh, pray, work… do what you need to do to get through the day, one day at a time.  
  • There is no wrong way to mourn - take your time and take good care of yourself.

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I am an educator who is trained to reflect, not a rabbi or any type of halachic authority. These writings are in no way binding, and may not represent all approaches to and experiences in navigating grief. In fact, there will likely be those who disagree with me or can offer additional suggestions and reflections. For this reason, I am leaving the comments section open so that together as a community, we can broaden the scope of this blog to include a majority of human experience.

One important request: Please be respectful in posting your comments and be sure to frame your tips in the most positive phrasing possible. I reserve the right to delete any unkind comments and plan to update the original posts occasionally to include additional insights and reflections from our combined experience.

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