“We’re all human, and at some point in our lives, we are going to suffer a loss,” said Janet B. Kurland, senior care specialist at Jewish Community Services.
In its 15th year, the Irvin B. Levinson Memorial Lecture Series on Death, Dying and Bereavement — created and coordinated by Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc. and JCS — educates attendees on how best to shoulder the burden of that inevitable reality, to face the process head-on.
This year, the lecture series will feature two speakers, who will relay experiences from their professional and personal lives.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, a Baltimore native and the founding rabbi of B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md., counsels grief-stricken families as a function of his position. However, he found himself on the other side of the conversation nearly three years ago when he was diagnosed with a form of cancer.
Rabbi Weinblatt plans on sharing with the audience — usually comprised of both medical professionals and members of the community — what he learned while going through the process and how he responded during various stops along the way; Weinblatt has been in remission for more than two years. He will also reflect on the Jewish sources and traditions he drew upon during his life-threatening illness.
Rabbi Weinblatt noted that Jews should not take for granted the system that has been put into place post-mortem. He highlighted the significance of shiva, shloshim and yizkor.
“As Jews, we sometimes don’t realize how fortunate we are [to have] what our ancestors and rabbis developed and bequeathed to us,” Rabbi Weinblatt said. “By having those various touchstones, it allows us to go on living while at the same time being able to mark that time and remember the individual whose presence was such a part of our lives.”
Although she is not Jewish, Dr. Kay Jamison, the lecture’s second keynote speaker, shares Rabbi Weinblatt’s admiration and respect for the Jewish tradition of dealing with grief.
“What seems quite wonderful about Judaism is that it has really built in these wonderful traditions of people getting together and mourning in a very ritualized, prescribed way. It makes legitimate the whole process of mourning,” said Dr. Jamison, the Dalio Family professor in mood disorders at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center.
In addition to her professional expertise, Dr. Jamison will discuss the emotional effects of losing her husband to cancer in 2002. Through the ordeal, she said she learned firsthand not only how to grieve, but also how to find positives during a period of loss.
“I came out with a tremendous sense of respect for the process of grief,” Dr. Jamison said. “It serves an enormously important role in one’s life in terms of coming to terms with the fact that this person is just not going to be back. You really have to establish a different kind of relationship with someone who’s dead. Grief is the process that leads you in that direction.”
She also plans on bringing up the subject of the important distinction between grief and depression, a passionately debated issue in the medical community.
In simple terms, Dr. Jamison explained that depression is an unremitting condition deserving of medical treatment, while grief is an emotion that, although serious, comes and goes in waves.
“After a certain initial [period], people can move on with their lives even though they are grieving and respond and seek out solace; that’s just not true with depression,” she said. “You don’t want to be going around calling people depressed who are in fact grieving someone who they loved and was part of their lives.”
Both Rabbi Weinblatt and Dr. Jamison are looking forward to bringing their personal reflections and professional discussions to the forefront. After their talks, each will engage in a question-and-answer session.
Often, the main obstacle of death and bereavement education is that people aren’t comfortable talking about their loss. The lecture series aims to combat that anxiety.
“I knew Irv. He was such a prince of a guy and somebody who was so much a part of the Levinson Bros. tradition of service to the community,” Rabbi Weinblatt said. “It’s quite an honor and very humbling to be asked to speak to the community this year.”