A special event on dealing with grief and loss in a healthy way was held at Beth Tfiloh Congregation on Feb. 5.
The event, titled “The Language of Loss,” focused on advice for community members seeking to get themselves, or their friends and family, through the death of a loved one. Beth Tfiloh, Jewish Community Services, and Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc. hosted the event.
Zipora Schorr, Beth Tfiloh’s director of education, opened the event by speaking about the passing of her father, who died when she was 10 years old, and the importance of openly discussing loss with loved ones. “And the awful thing about that period of time was that we didn’t talk about it,” Schorr said. “We didn’t talk about sickness; the big C. I didn’t even know what the big C was. I thought it was orange juice.”
“And so tonight is dedicated to help us to understand the nonunderstandable,” Schorr continued. “Help us explain the unexplainable. To ourselves, to our children.”
In addition to Schorr, Rabbi Chai Posner, associate rabbi of Beth Tfiloh, and Donna Kane, a grief clinician of JCS, offered initial remarks. Then, participants had the opportunity to attend one of four breakout sessions on processing bereavement. These sessions included: helping young children with loss; helping adolescents with loss; managing adult life losses including death, divorce, and end of employment; and being a friend to someone who is grieving.
Following the event, the JT spoke with Posner and Kane about how people can get themselves or their loved ones through the grieving process. Posner offered his “Ten Commandments of a Shiva Visit,” which actually contain 15 separate suggestions. The majority of these are recommendations on what not to do or say, such as “Don’t speak before the mourner,” “Don’t use cliches,” and, particularly important, “Don’t mix up who died.”
In terms of what companions of the grieving can do during their time of need, Posner suggested showing up, being respectful of the bereaved’s time, asking about the deceased, and being sure to listen.
Kane, who holds 13 years of experience as a grief clinician, stressed that grieving does not end when the last guest leaves a shiva call. “I’ve heard people say that once shiva was over, it was so empty, and people were not reaching out,” Kane said. “I think that comes from people wanting to give the grieving space, but people in mourning need connection.”
As an alternative to the hands-off approach, Kane recommended, as a start, assisting the bereaved with any common household chores they may not have the energy to do themselves, such as helping with their laundry, bringing them meals, or assisting their children with homework. “These little things can help immensely when the bereaved find it hard to just get out of bed,” Kane said.
In terms of caring for a mourner’s emotional needs, Kane stressed not attempting to control their emotions. “If someone feels withdrawn, sometimes just being there in silence is the kindest thing you can do,” Kane said. “If someone is so emotional they can’t control their crying, or are angry, it’s very important to accept that, and not try to change their behavior. Telling the person in pain ‘You need to change your behavior’ or ‘You need to stop being withdrawn and get out more’ are not helpful statements.”
Kane recommended using phrases like “‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ if it’s sincere,” as well as “I don’t have the right words.” It can also be very comforting to talk about a memory about the deceased, as this helps demonstrate a connection between them and the comforter. And, of course, hugs can go a long way, too.