Life is a day that lies between two nights—the night of "not yet," before birth, and the night of "no more," after death. That day may be overcast with pain and frustration, or bright with warmth and contentment. But, inevitably, the night of death must arrive.

Death is a night that lies between two days—the day of life on earth and the day of eternal life in the world to come. That night may come suddenly, in the blink of an eye, or it may come gradually, with a slowly receding sun.

As the day of life is an interlude, so is the night of death an interlude. As the day inevitably proceeds to dusk, so does the darkness inevitably proceed to dawn. Each portion—the foetal existence, and life, and death, and eternal life—is separated by a veil which human understanding cannot pierce.

We, the survivors who do not accompany the deceased on their journey into the night, are left alone staring into the veiled, black void. There is a rage of conflicting emotions that seethes within us: bewilderment and paralysis, agony and numbness, guilt and anger, fear and futility and pain —and also emancipation from care and worry. The golden chain of the family link is broken and swings wildly before our eyes. Our whole being is convulsed. Love and warmth and hope have vanished, and in their place remains only despair. The precious soul that touched our life and enhanced its sense of purpose and meaning is no more. Our only consolation is that he once was. There is a past, but the past is no more; and the future is bleak indeed. The broken, swinging chain hypnotizes us and we are frozen.

Judaism is a faith that embraces all of life, and death is a part of life. As this faith leads us through moments of joy, so does it guide us through the terrible moments of grief, holding us firm through the complex emotions of mourning, and bidding us turn our gaze from the night of darkness to the daylight of life.

At the moment of death painful questions gnaw at our innards—existential and philosophical problems so stubborn, they will not go away: Why was this person, of all the people that fill our great world, fated to end his days just now? Why did the end come before the logic of life ordained that it come? Death should be, we feel, a sum under the bottom line—a total of all of life's varied experiences. It should add up to a meaningful conclusion, and end naturally. It should not intrude in the midst of the equations of living, starkly disrupting all calculations, confusing all the figures, belying all the prepared solutions. But, too often, the end is abrupt. Life remains an unknown quality large, incalculable problem, bedevilled by death.

At the moment of death there is severe disorientation. We are perplexed not only by the large questions of life and death, but by problems of how to feel and how to conduct ourselves properly: How shall we react to the tragedy? What is the proper respect that we should give the dead? How do we achieve a measure of dignity during an interment? Shall we mourn the unfulfilled life of the deceased, torn away before finishing the business of living, or may we feel a loss to ourselves, agonizing over our own personal distress?

And how should we comfort ourselves? Should we appear before family and friends brave, dignified, courageously unruffled? Or may we give vent to our anguish in a stream of tears? Shall the usual amenities of a social occasion obtain at the gathering of the family, or should we concern ourselves with the soul-wound of our own loss and let the world manage for itself?

Thousands of years of our rich tradition provide us with direction during these moments of crisis. The accumulated wisdom of the ages is a source of great consolation.

In the pages that follow, you will find clear guidelines that the Jewish tradition has laid down to lead mourners through the complex maze of uncertainties and ambivalences that attend the tragic moment. The ache of the heart will not suddenly disappear. There will be no miraculous consolation. But Judaism does teach the aching heart how to express its pain in love and respect, and how to achieve the eventual consolation which will restore us to humanity and keep us from vindictiveness and self-pity.