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Facing Grief

Facing Grief

Staying Functional and Faithful

''Resurrection'' by David Brook
"Resurrection" by David Brook

"I crush you and I heal you" (Deut. 32:39).

Once, a few weeks before Passover, I was hit with a bout of vertigo. My doctor could find no reason for the problem, which left me dizzy, tired and off-balance. She said it could be permanent, or it could disappear as suddenly as it had appeared. In addition to trying various non-conventional remedies, I decided to treat the problem as I have dealt with many grief experiences in the past, i.e. divert my attention and maintain my regular schedule of activities to whatever extent possible. Yes, the illness influenced me, but I did not want to let it define me. Getting through the day on what felt like an unsteady boat tossed by high waves was not easy. It took extra effort to stay focused when talking to people. While shopping, I bumped into a couple of glass doors that I didn't even see. Twice, I fell down a flight of stairs, but thankfully broke nothing. I learned to juggle; to rest and respect the illness, yet to stay disciplined. After about a month, the symptoms began to fade until I was left with only lingering traces of this unwelcome visitor.

I often use this example with people who are grieving a loss. Whether we are dealing with sudden grief, due to the loss of a loved one, a job or a home or on-going grief due to abuse, chronic illness or the loss of a dream, a broken heart requires time to heal. And sometimes, that takes an entire lifetime.

King Solomon said, "No man dies with even half his heart's desires fulfilled" (Midrash on Ecclesiastices 1:13). This means that we are all grieving our own particular losses. I imagine that I have a "box" in my heart where I put my own unfulfilled dreams. After all, we all get battered, betrayed, abandoned and abused at times. The greater the loss, the harder we must fight on two fronts: a) to stay physically functional and b) to strengthen our faith.

Perhaps the hardest thing about grief is that we have no idea it will strike or how long it will last. Seeing others with whatever it is that we do not have or hearing a favorite song can trigger intense grief. As we struggle to stay afloat, people around us expect us to continue to chat politely and act normally just when we are feeling least polite or normal. It's like walking on prostheses instead of having functioning legs.

Any loss, especially one involving the loss of love, independence, structure or identity, causes a temporary loss of balance—physically, emotionally and spiritually. Perhaps the hardest thing about grief is that we have no idea it will strike or how long it will last.The body does not want to move. Moments of acceptance are interspersed with emotions that range from apathy to rage. Acts which we did so spontaneously, from brushing our teeth to preparing a meal, suddenly take enormous effort. The words of prayer, which once touched us so deeply, may suddenly seem empty and meaningless. We may feel wooden and robot-like, as if all vitality has been drained from our bodies. We wonder when we will "get back to normal," not realizing that "normal" will now have a new definition and that it takes time to adjust to living with pain.

This process cannot be forced. People often wonder, "Why can't I just snap back to my old self?" But this is not what G‑d wants. He wants us to use the pain to develop a deeper level of faith and gain understandings we did not possess before. We must allow ourselves to feel the pain in all its intensity and, at the same time, honor our new strengths. If not, we are likely to want to drown out the pain with emotion-deadening pills or engage in other forms of escapism.

One reason that this adjustment period takes time is due to the fact that when the nervous system suffers a shock, the body is flooded with stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones destroy cells in a specific area of the brain which controls memory and focusing. It takes two years for these cells to regenerate after a severe shock, such as a sudden death, betrayal or other major loss.

Anyone who has ever had an operation remembers that dreaded moment when the nurse walked in and cheerily said, "Time to get off the bed!" When we looked at her in disbelief, she said, "If you don't move, your lungs and muscles will suffer." Then she gently and compassionately (hopefully!) got you up and moving. This is the same process we must do with ourselves – respect our limitations, while pushing ourselves forward.

The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is very helpful in dealing with grief. With this technique, we first acknowledge our feelings and then we repeat positive and empowering words over and over (hundreds of times a day!) to strengthen our faith as we learn to adjust. Here are some EFT thoughts:

1. LET GO: Tell yourself, "Although I want this pain to be over already, the healing process is not within my control. G‑d decides how long it will take. My job is to 'Trust G‑d and do good' (Psalms 37:3). If I do my work, He will heal me at the rate He thinks is best."

2. MAKE A PLACE IN YOUR HEART FOR THE PAIN: Tell yourself, "Even though I fear that I will always feel broken and miserable, I choose to make room in my heart for faith and gratitude, even if I can only manage 1% at a time."

3. DO NOT LET THE PAIN DEFINE YOU: Tell yourself, "Despite the pain, I choose to accept my pain, yet not be defined by it. I am greater than this grief."

4. BE PATIENT. Tell yourself, "Despite my stormy emotions, I choose to face the inner turbulence with faith and tranquility, knowing that I have within me all the healing resources I need to use this trauma for self-transformation."

5. STAY ACTIVE: Tell yourself, "Despite my fears of going insane and being trapped in sorrow, I can, at any given moment, think a positive thought or do an act of kindness or self-control which will reveal my inner strengths and build my sense of identity and self-worth."

6. WORK ON 1% TRUST AT A TIME: "Even though I don't understand why this happened and feel so distant from G‑d, I choose to build my faith bit by bit, 1% at a time, trusting – just 1% – that this is for my best and highest good and that G‑d can heal my heart, for He is the healer of broken hearts (Psalms)."

7. FEEL LOVED: Tell yourself, "Even though I am upset that I'm not getting all the love and understanding I want from people, I choose to know that only G‑d can provide consistently reliable love and that He can fill me with love this second."

8. FEEL GRATEFUL: Tell yourself, "Despite the pain and bitterness, I choose to be grateful for the smallest goodness in my life. I can look around whatever room I am in and think of the possessions I am grateful for or be grateful for every part of my body that is working or be grateful for any moment of pleasure, no matter how empty and meaningless it seems in comparison to the enormity of my grief."

If you are grieving a loss at this time, remember that all pain, whether physical or emotional, is an opportunity to develop self-discipline and faith. Notice all the little "victories" you have during the day which prove that you are courageous, kind and responsible. You will have brought greater light into your life.

Dr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT (“Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah”)—a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. Click here to visit her website.
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
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Jennifer Nuss Lansdale October 18, 2017

Thank you! I really appreciate this right now! Reply

John London May 25, 2013

Escapism - Precipitation Thanks for the way to face the grief. Well, I would like to share how I escaped facing grief and how it precipitated things in later part of my life.

I had an infatuation for 10years with whom I had never spoke and when I met a girl who inspired me, I was confident to speak to my infatuation only to realise later that I had fallen in love with the girl who inspired me for 8 months. I didn't meet my infatuation as I felt it not necessary now.

In two weeks I realise that my inspiration has a BF and I was heart broken again.
Not accepting the fact that I was rejected before even given a chance, I started few addictions and changing the definition of love that we love only the personalities and not the person. Hence we can fall in love with any person and any no of times.

A friend of mine who was helping me come out of this grief fell in love with me and I felt love is in reciprocating to ppl who love us. Surprisingly she betrayed me for her old boy friend. Reply

Naomi New Jersey March 20, 2013

Good grief Thank you for your profound, honest, deeply insightful and ultimately practical words on grieving. Your article went straight to my heart and I believe, for the first time in years, that healing is possible and that G-d has not forgotten or given up on me

With deep gratitude,

Raziela August 18, 2010

grief Wow thank you Miriam for a wonderfully clear and accurate article on grief. I have been grieving intensely for the past 3 years. I basically lost my "whole world" at once, in a 2 week time frame.

I am now coming out of the depression, grieving etc and wow it feels great. Not only have I processed immense pain but I also found my way back to God. Phew, feels good.
The best thing is that as I have released pain joy has flooded into that space. I feel like I am coming back to life again.

Not sure why God wants us to walk these paths but it is wonderful to feel good again.

I definitely recommend getting into your deep abyss and digging out buried pains and disillusionments. When they come up to the surface it is immensely painful but its worth is for the joy that fills the empty space.

Thank you God that I had the time, ability and courage to face the challenge. Reply

Miriam Adahan May 3, 2010

THANK YOU Dear readers: Thank you for taking the time to write. Your words are precious and uplifting. I can feel each of you as I read your letters and each of you is precious to me, like a star - far away but giving light. I loved the poem. Keep connecting. It's all we can do! Reply

kanchan char nottinhgham, uk April 29, 2010

thank you so much for this. it is beautiful. I cried reading it. Reply

Anonymous Boston February 9, 2010

EFT??.. Hello and I do thank you for your inspirational article. With that said, and with all due respect. Wouldn't it help so many if you explained the difference between your post and how to actually do EFT? As one who has had a tremendous benefit from using EFT, I have to say it. You have a community here who would easily grasp the simple tapping technique once they realize how similar it is to acupuncture (except there are no needles used) To call positive affirmations EFT, without even mentioning the rest denies your readers of a wonderfully tool that has an over a 90% effectiveness rate. I know of no other therapy that efficiently diminishes betrayals, traumas,grief, fear anxiety etc. A never ending list of potential physical and emotional problems that can all be healed with the right therapist. I had a history of traumatic abuse, resulting in over 20 yrs of horrible flashback nightmares Anxiety and Depression. Gone, not a single nightmare now for 2 yrs! ~ Peace~ Reply

Levi Vancouver, Canada December 20, 2009

Appreciation I want to Thank You deeply, this article was so well put and relevant- every time worry comes to me Chabad always has something to address it, and it does not require searching. Thank You for your words, they bring comfort in those times of need,

Shalom- you are performing a huge mitzvah. Reply

Anonymous Lebanon, tn July 15, 2009

Death of a Spouse I lost my spouse 3 wks ago..It was an agonizing death for him and for me. I am having a real hard time, but I sat down and wrote what I felt. Then I was reading a book on Grief and saw this poem. I changed some words to fit me, Maybe this will help someone else.

Don't tell me that you understand
Don't tell me that you know.
Don't tell me that I will survive
How I will surely grow.
Don't tell me this is just a test,
That I am truly blessed,
That I am chosen for this task,Apart from all the rest.
Don't come at me with answers
That can only come from me,
Don't tell me how my grief will pass'
That I will soon be free.
Don't stand in pious judgment'
Of the bounds I must untie,
Don't tell me how to suffer
And don't tell me how to cry.
My life is filled with selfishness,
My pain is all I see,
But I need you, I need your love,
Accept me in my ups and downs, I need someone to share,
Just hold my hand and let me cry,
And say to me "My friend, I care". Reply

Mindy Jeruslaem, Brooklyn September 3, 2008

Thank you Thank you so much for this inspiring article. It touched me deeply. Reply

Mindi Richmond, VA, USA August 8, 2008

Your Article This is so helpful to me right now - I am going through this in my personal life. It's also what my counselor says I need to allow myself to do - go with the emotions and treat myself gently as I adjust.

I am looking forward to gaining confidence as I step back into the world, taking classes, meeting people, and learning new things.

I don't understand the reasons why G-d brought these changes to my life, but He saw a reason to do so, and with time and faith, I will emerge as a more capable and stronger person. Reply

S. Ni Raghallaigh Dublin, Ireland August 5, 2008

Stress Cells Should stress destroy our brain cells then the Holy Kind David must've been doomed - or perhaps Joab was a follower of such psychological philosophy, as King David's behaviour was often commented on by Joab as being somewhat erratic Reply

Anonymous Eagle River, Alaska, USA August 5, 2008

Grief People: Formulas, no matter how well intentioned, simply do not work.
Formulas are somethng applied, like bandaids.
I suffered grief and loss of dreams when my husband of 27 years , and father of my six children, decided to divorce me.
The healing took about four years, and it is all due to God talking to my heart and healing it that today I am looking forward to my new life, not only without bitterness but with great joy.
God deals with us individually and directly - and that's why formulas do not work.
IMO. Reply

Starlit Tears Seattle, WA USA August 4, 2008

Thank you - this comes at just the right time to pull me up out of a terrible pit. I am fighting metastatic breast cancer, and some of the worst "side effects" include feeling abandoned by formerly close, absolutely trusted friends, and being treated with concrete disdain, as a second-class person, by the big cancer clinic I go to. (My spouse's insurance pays for treatments, but it does not cover any psychiatric services for even Stage IV patients.) The worst thing is the language used by the psych department, the way they ask me, a sick middle aged woman, over and over, if I think I can "get better insurance." There is not one Jewish chaplain available, only Christian ones, in this major facillity. I feel so alone.

What I am grieving is being treated like a human being. My friends find my situation depressing, the hospital prefers wealthier patients, and I feel thrown away while I still have life: I feel buried alive.

Your article gave me real light and hope. Thank you! Reply

Rosina August 4, 2008

Facing grief Thank you so much!! Reply

Anonymous Las Vegas, NV August 4, 2008

Topic Facing Grief The patients hould see a Pharmacologist. I had a problem and after reviewing my medication one was completely eliminated, one 1/2 twice a day, last 1/2 a day. Problem was cured. Reply

Isabel Mercado Weslaco, TX August 4, 2008

Facing Grief What a wonderful essay; every word of it is true. I remember when I lost my husband 6 years ago and I told myself that I would be like Eleanor Rigby, except I would take off my mask at night and leave it on my nightstand and put it on in the morning and show my children and friends that people do survive. I was wrong because when I took off my "mask" I still felt miserable. It was my faith in G-d that made it possible for me to go on. Reply

Anonymous Winnipeg, Canada August 4, 2008

I l loved this article, I t really raised my spirites, Thank you! Reply

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