Af­ter loss of my mom, thoughts on how to con­sole a mourner

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Arts - BY RABBI MARC GELL­MAN Send ques­tions and com­ments to The God Squad at god­squadques­[email protected]

I am 71 and I just be­came an or­phan.

My dad Sol died in 2007 at age 90 and now Mom has died at age 97. Ros­alie died on Dec. 14, be­fore the Sab­bath. At that mo­ment, I be­came an or­phan.

I have been think­ing that the Bi­ble speaks about car­ing for or­phans of­ten (Psalm 146:9; Ex­o­dus 22:22; Deuteron­omy 16:14, 10:18, 24:17, 27:19; Isa­iah 1:17), and yet many or­phans are not poor and there­fore need no spe­cial care. Still, the Bi­ble com­mands us to al­ways care for or­phans. Now I un­der­stand why.

These are the things that com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple have done for me and said to me in the days since Mom’s pass­ing that ful­fill the bi­b­li­cal com­mand­ment to care for the or­phan. These sug­ges­tions may help you com­fort your newly or­phaned friends as they helped me be com­forted in what is now, and for some time into the fu­ture, my bro­ken time.

Don’t tell an or­phan


(or any other per­son who has just lost a loved one whom you are try­ing to com­fort): “Don’t worry, ev­ery­thing will be OK.” The point of death is that it is for­ever and that it makes many things in your life that were once OK, sud­denly not OK. The task of grief work is to find a new way to live a com­plete and joy­ous life while know­ing that a big part of your joy has van­ished from your life for­ever. I found that the best greet­ing from con­sol­ers was, “May God com­fort you.” The greet­ing, “I am so sorry for your loss” is not bad, but it is a bit odd to is­sue an apol­ogy (I am so sorry) when in fact you are not apol­o­giz­ing for any­thing. The main thing is to ac­cept the grav­ity of grief and do not triv­i­al­ize it by say­ing that ev­ery­thing will be OK. Since Mom died there are things that are per­ma­nently not OK.

Ask the mourner you A are try­ing to com­fort to tell you a story about their loved one who has died. I know that I love sto­ries and I love to talk, so ask­ing me to tell a story is easy for me. But for ev­ery mourner, a com­forter who is sin­cerely in­ter­ested in learn­ing more about your loved one is far dearer than a com­forter who fo­cuses on you or the death or the fu­ture. If the mourner is too bro­ken to tell you a story, and if you knew their loved one, then you tell them a story.

Many of my con­gre­gants wrote to com­fort me and told me of how they would watch Mom sit in the front row lis­ten­ing to me preach. They said she looked el­e­gant and proud. Pride is easy, but I hon­estly don’t know what el­e­gance re­ally means and yet Mom was surely el­e­gant. She was poor her en­tire life, but she was el­e­gant. I have been won­der­ing how she man­aged el­e­gance on such a tight bud­get. Now I re­al­ize that el­e­gance is not a mea­sure of wealth, but rather a mea­sure of sat­is­fac­tion. Mom was sat­is­fied with her lot and not jeal­ous of oth­ers. This is the se­cret of el­e­gance. It is right there in the first verse of the 23rd Psalm which is mis­trans­lated as, “The Lord is my shep­herd I shall not want.” The word for “want” is not there in the He­brew. The word that is there is the word for “lack.” So the verse should be trans­lated from the He­brew as, “The Lord is my shep­herd I shall not lack.” God does not prom­ise us the ful­fill­ment of our ev­ery de­sire. Rather, God prom­ises us that we lack noth­ing we need to live a ful­fill­ing com­pas­sion­ate life right now. Mom no doubt wanted things, but she felt that she lacked noth­ing. That is el­e­gance.

Men­tion Heaven. Of A the many mes­sages of con­do­lence I have al­ready re­ceived about Mom’s pass­ing, the only mes­sage that men­tioned the hope that Mom’s soul would rest in Heaven was from my Catholic friend Michael. God how I wish that Jews would feel more com­fort­able men­tion­ing Heaven, or in our ver­sion, “The World to Come” (Heb: Olam Habah). Telling me that I have so many mem­o­ries of Mom only makes her pass­ing harder for me. Be­liev­ing that death is not the end of her soul gives me true hope. The mes­sage that death is not the end of us is the es­sen­tial be­lief of ev­ery sin­gle re­li­gion on earth. Af­firm­ing that be­lief al­ways is im­por­tant. Af­firm­ing that be­lief at the time when the grave of your mother is still fresh is es­sen­tial.

Dear Mom, may your soul rest in peace in the Olam Habah with Dad among the holy and the right­eous … and the el­e­gant.

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