This time of year brings the joy of the holidays, and often the devastating loss of loved ones. Many elderly and ailing lose long-term battles at year-end. Here in the northeast part of the U.S. we tend to think that the harshness of winter overcomes what little energy and determination remains. But that fails to explain the phenomenon in other parts of the country. I tend to think that there’s just a sense of closure provided as the year comes to an end. It’s a time when those weary of fighting for their lives are willing to concede with dignity. I was reminded of this when I received an email today from someone who lost his grandmother this past Sunday. He writes, “I have not been the same since. I’m back at work trying to distract myself.”
Just reading those words brought memories flooding back. I was exceptionally fortunate to have all four grandparents in my life to the age of 27. Then I lost one grandparent each year for the next 4 years. The grief was overwhelming. It was not until many years later, when I lost my father, that I explored the process of grief, in an attempt to enable me to endure and conquer it once again. I learned much that was instantly validated based on my prior experiences when losing my grandparents. Probably the most comforting concept, which “my people” have believed for thousands of years, is that the deceased live on in our memories. An essential part of the grieving process includes transforming our relationship with the departed into one which is different, but can extend into the future without being harmful to our daily lives and the experience of contentment and joy.
The whole concept of sitting Shiva is designed to assist the bereaved in transforming their relationship with the deceased. It is about undistracted time spent with relatives, friends, and loved ones in remembering and sharing the best memories about the deceased. It is about allowing the bereaved to openly express the grief felt by their loss.
For those of you who have recently experienced loss, or just want to understand better what friends and family members — perhaps employees or coworkers — might be going through, I recommend the article “Stranger at the Door.” I wrote it after the passing of my father in 2005, to help me come to terms with the loss. Some of you should have a tissue handy. For most, it will educate and enlighten you about the grieving process.