Responses to Grief

Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death.  Its a very sad day for me.  I posted on social media, and I received many messages of comfort.  I do find that most of those expressions really do comfort.  I observed that they fall into several categories:

  1.  People giving traditional words of comfort: “May G-d comfort you along with all mourners in Zion and Jerusalem.”  Some people mean those words sincerely, and they use the traditional words, because they feel they want to comfort, and don’t know what else to say.  I’m okay with this, if the words are said sincerely, and they actually are active with the tradition that uses these words.  I do have a problem with people who are just saying it to express Jewishness.  Its like they hijacked my grief to express themselves.  That I don’t appreciate.
  2. Others who just say they are sorry.  I do appreciate this. The statement acknowledges my sorrow, and expresses concern.  Its appreciated.
  3. Some say “Sorry for your loss.”  While it is true that it is my loss and not theirs, the statement leaves me with the feeling that I am alone in my grief. It feels like they are not going through this with me, but are merely observing my grief.  Its true, but it doesn’t comfort.  On some level, comfort involves people being there with you and for you.
  4. People who give advice.  I’ve been told to give myself permission to express my sorrow, or to comfort my mom, or some other thing.  One person just said I’d get through it.  That bothered me, and I told them I didn’t need them to tell me that.  The reality is, some people giving advice have been there, and they were trying to share what comforted them.  I appreciated that. Others took the opportunity to just tell me what they thought I should do.  I don’t need people to think for me.  I found no comfort in this.
  5. Finally, some people just let me know they were sorry I was hurting, and they cared.  That meant a great deal to me.

The big problem is that very few people actually know how to be comforting.  Most do the best they can, but in the end, its really two things that actually bring comfort; food, and being there.  We all take comfort in food, and that is good.  What also comforts is people just being with you without giving advice or citing formal bumper sticker phrases.  If you let me know you care, its enough.  Hanging out with me and smoking a cigar with me is good too.  When my dad passed away, a dozen guys from my cigar club came over one evening and we sat and smoked cigars and talked.  It meant the world to me.  It comforted me and I will never forget it.

I may sound like I’m pissed off, and to some extent I am.  Not with those who really mean well, and really want to comfort, but with people who use my sorrow as an opportunity to highlight their experiences or show off what they know.  If you used one of those phrases to me, I am not necessarily talking about you.  You may very well fall into the genuinely caring group, but not everyone does.  The ones I’m really upset with are the heartless people who didn’t say anything.

I know this sounds awfully judgmental, which is not my regular thing, but perhaps is how I am expressing my own grief.     The important thing is that I know I’ll be better tomorrow and the day after that.

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3 thoughts on “Responses to Grief

  1. Rabbi, I haven’t said anything, because I just don’t seem to remember the exact dates of things that are important in the lives of others. There, that takes me out of the class of those who didn’t say anything.

    Now, let me say I am very sorry. Any loss to a man I care very much about comes as a loss to me as well. I remember you always used to talk about your father, because he obviously was very important in your life, and every word you said about him was always kind and good.

    I guess the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

  2. Funny how food is always part of how we comfort ourselves. I think sometimes even people who want to “be there” with us can’t really comfort us as much as we might wish or hope because they remain “outside our skin.” So, their words might help (depending on how much words might mean to some of us) or their presence might alleviate the weight of grief for a moment or two. But I found, especially with the passing of my mom who didn’t come to faith (that I know of), the sadness of her going was deep inside and the only one who could reach me was God. And to my great surprise, He could not only find me there but He could help me truly heal–and there could be joy even in the sorrow. I didn’t expect that, especially in the wake of losing the person most monumental in my early life (my years before coming to faith). I am truly sorry how much it hurts to lose people who were larger than life to us–so much so we never knew how to say goodbye. My mom and dad both died in 1999. My dad’s passing was very different than my mom’s. I still miss her–so much. May God find you Michael, in the pain, and help you heal even as you grieve. He alone is able. May His peace be with you. Shalom.

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