Processing the Pain of Grief During Passover

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Loss is an unfortunate part of life that everyone is forced to face at some point, and while there is no simple solution to coping with grief, it can be magnified around the holidays.

“In our experience, we have found that for people who may not be observant of other holidays or people who are not affiliated with a synagogue, Passover has a lot of meaning because of the tradition,” said Donna Kane, a grief specialist at Jewish Community Services. “It’s a family gathering that they’ve always had, and it’s a very different experience when someone is missing from the table.”

“There’s a lot of unaddressed pain and suffering out there, and a lot of it revolves around the holidays, which should be a time of happiness and joy and celebration. But for so many people it’s, at best, bittersweet and sometimes not even that.” — Rabbi Amy Scheinerman (Photo provided)
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman (Photo provided)

JCS, in partnership with Sol Levinson Bros. Inc., the Foundation for Spirituality and Medicine and the Jewish Federation of Howard County, will host Empty Place at the Seder Table, a program to help those coping with the loss of a loved one during the holidays. Kane, alongside Rabbi Amy Scheinerman, will lead a session at Temple Isaiah on April 6.

“There’s a lot of unaddressed pain and suffering out there, and a lot of it revolves around the holidays, which should be a time of happiness and joy and celebration,” said Scheinerman. “But for so many people it’s, at best, bittersweet and sometimes not even that.”

While the Torah, Scheinerman said, does not specifically address how to cope with grief, Jewish tradition encourages people to find outlets to address their pain and mechanisms to cope. The holidays have rituals built into them to allow for just that, such as Yizkor, a memorial prayer for those who have passed.

“It’s fairly brief, but it is also deeply emotional and offers people an opportunity to express their continuing grief in a safe, communal-supported setting,” said Scheinerman. “[It lets people] acknowledge that this holiday is not idyllic or complete for them because someone is missing.”

Scheinerman added that the prayer is also a good time for people who are not in pain to honor the memory of a loved one.

Kane said that coping begins with the acknowledgement that somebody important is missing and to not “allow there to be an elephant in the room.” Additionally, people should not avoid talking of memories of loved ones. Lastly, it’s important that people allow themselves to cry if they’re sad or laugh if they’re happy; moments of happiness do not diminish the grief or importance of loss.

Donna Kane, JCS grief specialist (Photo provided)
Donna Kane, JCS grief specialist (Photo provided)

“One of the messages I hope will come across is that the notions of ‘perfect’ and ‘ideal’ that runs so much through our culture is not a Jewish value,” said Scheinerman. “We don’t expect anybody to be perfect. We don’t expect life to be ideal; we expect life to be full of holes.”

While coping is stressful enough on adults, children grieve in different ways, and JCS offers other programs that provide parents with tools to help children cope. Kane emphasized that it’s important to address a child’s questions honestly while taking age into consideration before getting into detail.

Euphemisms such as “grandpa went to sleep” can be misunderstood by children and should be avoided.

The program at Temple Isaiah is geared for adults, but Kane said that some teenagers (16 and older) may find it helpful as well.

Chizuk Amuno Congregation will host another session, and there is a series for those coping with ongoing grief hosted by Beth El Congregation.

“We are very pleased to be a co-sponsor,” said Cheryl Snyderman, director of Gemilut Hasadim at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, via email. “Those who attend will receive support and feel comforted. It’s very meaningful to be able to give that to someone, particularly when they are struggling and contemplating an upcoming seder without their loved one.”

 

Empty Place at the Seder Table
Coping with Loss During the Passover Holiday

Temple Isaiah, 12200 Scaggsville Road, Fulton
April 6 at 6:30 p.m.

The program is free. Preregistration is requested. For information, visit jcsbaltimore.org/griefsupport or call 410-466-9200.

 

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

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