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How Does One Cope With Bereavement?

How Does One Cope With Bereavement?

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It is natural to ask the question "why?" in a time of anguish. One general answer, which is really self-evident though often hard to accept in a state of emotional distress, is that it is surely illogical to limit the Creator in His designs and actions to conform to the understanding of a created human being.

To cite a simple illustration: no one can expect an infant to understand the ideas and actions of a learned professor, although the latter was once an infant himself and the infant may have the potential even to surpass the professor in due course. How much more so, and incomparably, when it comes to the infinite intelligence of the Creator vis-à-vis the finite and limited intelligence of a created human being.

The difference between a created human being and his Creator is absolute. Our Sages declare that a human being must accept everything that happens, both occurrences that are obviously good and those that are incomprehensible, with the same positive attitude that "all that G–d does is for the good," even though it is beyond human understanding.

This is not such a great revelation but, as the Torah says, it is difficult for a person to accept consolation in a time of grief.

Nevertheless, G–d has made it possible for human beings to grasp some aspects and insights into life and after-life. One of these revealed truths is that the Neshamah (soul) is a part of G–dliness and is immortal. When the time comes for it to return to Heaven it leaves the body and continues its eternal life in the spiritual World of Truth.

It is also a matter of common sense that whatever the direct cause of the separation of the soul from the body (whether a fatal accident, or illness, etc.,) it could affect only some of the vital organs of the physical body but not, in any way, the spiritual soul.

A further point, which is also understandable, is that during the soul’s lifetime on earth in partnership with the body, the soul is necessarily “handicapped”, in certain respects, by the requirements of the body (such as eating and drinking) Even a Tzaddik (righteous person) whose entire life is consecrated to G–d cannot escape the restraints of life in a material and physical environment. Consequently, when the time comes for the soul to return “home”, it is essentially a release for it as it makes its ascent to a higher world, no longer restrained by a physical body and physical environment. Henceforth, the soul is free to enjoy the spiritual bliss of being near to G–d in the fullest measure. That is surely a comforting thought.

It may be asked, if it is a release for the soul, why has the Torah prescribed periods of mourning? But there is really no contradiction. The Torah recognises the natural feelings of grief that are felt by the loss of a near and dear one, whose passing leaves a void in the family. The physical presence and contact of the beloved one will be sorely missed. So the Torah has prescribed set periods of mourning to give vent to these feelings and to make it easier to regain the proper equilibrium and adjustment.

However to allow oneself to be carried away by these feelings beyond the limits set by the Torah – in addition to it being a disservice to oneself and to others, as well as to the Neshamah – would mean that one is more concerned with one’s own feelings than with the feelings of the dear Neshamah that has risen to new spiritual heights of eternal happiness. Thus, paradoxically, the overextended feelings of grief which are due to the great love for the departed one actually cause pain to the loved one, since the Neshamah continues to take an interest in the relatives left behind, sees what is going on (even better than before) and rejoices with them in their joys, etc.

Inasmuch as the soul is eternal and is now in a state where it is not constrained by the body’s limitations, it is fully aware of what is happening in the family. When it sees that it is a cause of grief over and beyond the bounds of mourning set by the Torah it is obviously distressed by it, and this in no way contributes to the soul’s peace and blissfulness.

Even during the soul’s sojourn in this life the real bond between people and members of a family is not a physical one but a spiritual one. What makes the real person is not his flesh and bones but his character and spiritual qualities. This bond remains and all those who loved the person dearly should try all the more to bring gratification and continuous spiritual elevation to the Neshamah through greater adherence to the Torah in general, and particularly in the realm directly related to the soul’s passing. To observe what is prescribed for the period of Shiva but not extend it, similarly, in regard to the period of Shloshim (thirty days) but not beyond, and then to serve G–d through the fulfilment of His mitzvot as service should be – with joy and gladness of heart.

One thing the departed soul can no longer do is the actual fulfilment of the mitzvot, which can be carried out only jointly by the soul and body together in this material world. But this, too, can partly be overcome when those left behind do a little more mitzvot and good deeds in honour, and for the benefit, of the dear Neshamah.

Shiva is, of course, a period of sorrow and mourning for the soul of a near and dear one which has returned to the World of Truth. A Jewish soul is described in the Torah as “the lamp of G–d” since its purpose on this earth is to spread the light of G–dliness. Its departure from this earth is a cause for mourning as prescribed by the Torah. Yet, together with this, one must not forget that the soul is eternal. Nor must it be forgotten that even such a painful event comes from G–d so there can be no doubt that there is a good purpose in it.

But the essential purpose of Shiva is that “the living should reflect in his heart” (Ecclesiastes Ch.7:2). This means that those left behind should search their hearts and re-appraise themselves. They should attempt to improve themselves in areas of daily life which are real and eternal – i.e. Torah and mitzvot. Indeed, since the soul that ascended to Heaven has left a gap of discontinued good deeds here on earth, the immediate relatives and friends should make compensation for it through additional and extra efforts on their part.

Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov is director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK.
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Anonymous Richmond Hill, Canada October 3, 2011

How does one cope with bereavement The depth of our grief is so deep that it is very hard to comprehend your article. I read a little each day and try to find some inspiration to console my grief and try to understand what I am experiencing right now on the the loss of our son.
Thank you again Reply

Anonymous January 21, 2011

How does one cope with bereavement The article is wonderful; unfortunately the depth of my grief at the moment makes me forget to do all the positives......but I am trying. Thank you for posting such wonderful words. Reply

mark St. Petersburg, FL September 23, 2009

How does one cope with bereavement? Thank you, thank you for this article. Reply

claire asheville, nc February 23, 2009

How does one cope with bereavement? these articles are wonderful, nourishing and heartfelt!! They are a source of inspiration to me!! Thank you..thank you!! Reply