by Elizabeth Siegel Cohen, LCSW
Coordinator, illness, loss and spiritual support at JCFS Chicago
I recently read a letter published in the Washington Post by a young widowed father of two named David Creekmore. The letter was written to his deceased wife, Trish, who died three years ago. Towards the end of this deeply moving letter David wrote “Life’s too short. I had to lose you to really understand that. You are not forgotten. We move on because we have to, not because we want to.” These words really resonated with me because they speak so powerfully about how the experience of loss can forever change our focus and priorities in life. Read David's letter.
Bereavement refers to the period of mourning and grief following the death of a loved one. The word comes from the Germanic root word meaning “to rob” or “to seize by violence.” In the 15 years I have spent supporting the bereaved in our community, I have observed that no matter the circumstances around a loved one’s death, most people find that the death of a loved one feels like it happened too soon or that they were not ready for it.
I have learned that when dealing with loss it is not time that heals, but it is what you do with the time. Probably the most common question I am asked as a Bereavement specialist is “How do I go on after this loss?” The answer to this question is that you first need to give yourself time to mourn the loss. In our fast- paced, drive-through society, very few of us devote the time and space to mourn the death of a loved one. There are so many ways to do this.
Many people coping with bereavement seek the comfort and solace of friends, family, therapists, grief support groups and clergy. They can provide presence, validation and listening as we process and share stories about our loved one and what their death means to us. For others, processing the loss can be done through creative pursuits such as journaling, art, music, yoga and meditative mindfulness. These outlets can help us express our feelings about the loss, thus facilitating mourning.
Judaism also offers many ways to process and mourn our loss; including the rituals during the funeral--sitting Shiva, reciting Kaddshand honoring loved ones through Yizkor and Yahrzeit. Judaism teaches us that mourning takes time and that although grief is always with us, it changes and recedes over time. Finally, many of us mourn through education; either by reading about what can help us or by hearing from experts in the field of Grief and Loss.