The Gift of Grief #1

Every year around Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, I get a little down. Most often it starts a few days to a week before the holiday. This year it hit me the day before and now, a few days after.  I never noticed this actually until my good friend Aviva pointed it out to me a few years ago.  I was feeling sad, tearful and “blue” as my mother, may she live and be well, call it.  I was telling Aviva my woes and she said “Chaya, I have known you for several years now. It’s a week before Rosh Hashana. Your father’s yartzeit (anniversary of his death) is the second night of Rosh Hashana. Haven’t you noticed that you always get a little down around this time of year? I certainly have!”

My father, Harvey Michael Werstein (Zvi Moshe ben Eliyaleb of blessed memory) died on the second day of Rosh Hashana 50 years ago. He was 28. My mother was 24. My sister Leslie was 4. I was six months old. Wow! I never noticed it before Aviva told me about this pattern she had observed. But boy did it make sense! So for the next few years, I wasn’t so puzzled when I landed up with a box of tissues on my lap. Then two years ago, after having some major insights into how we human beings truly operate psychologically (see, I innocently “expected” that I would be immune to my yearly grief experience.  So I was quite shocked when three days before Rosh Hashana I found myself all weepy. I was talking to my colleague and mentor Rivkah Krumholtz about my surprise and she said to me something that absolutely changed my whole attitude towards loss and grief.  She said something like “Chaya, did it ever occur to you that the feelings of grief are a sign of CONNECTION. Why would you NOT want to feel the loss of something so special as your father?” It was then that I realized that the Creator of the Universe gave us ALL of our emotions to experience. Not just the ones we label as “good.”  We get to experience EVERYTHING. And that is GOOD.

This has helped me tremendously in my work as a Social Worker in Hospice.  I share this with the families that I serve and they all seem to give a sigh of relief when they hear it.  We don’t have to be afraid of grief. We can welcome it. Like the waves of the ocean, we can let it wash over us when it comes and watch it roll into the shore. Waves will always come. Sometimes the water is still and quiet, and at other times it is strong and loud.  Some waves are big and feel scary, some less so. But they all ultimately roll into shore. So does grief.

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