Monday, 3 February 2020

Good Grief, My Fail, And The wisdom Of A Rabbi.

It was about twenty five years ago that I sat in my office on a Saturday morning to have a conversation with S.

S. was having a tough time.  Her marriage had ended. Her husband was a brilliant medical professional who had lost his practice due to chronic alcoholism.  He was one of those who never got sober.  They had lost their home. They had two children.

S. began to tell her tale.  I slipped into my male fixit mode, and I began to proffer advice.

S. drew herself up in her chair.  She said  "Michael Povey, I have not come here to get advice.  I am here for you to listen to me."  


Point well taken, but too often forgotten.

It's with that in mind that I encourage you to read the following, (all about grief and listening)  from a wise New York City Rabbi. 

Tamid is the name of his congregation.

Thanks good NYC  friend Kathy for the  H-T  on the Rabbi's wisdom

Dear Tamid,

On Friday, we said our final farewell and put Xana Antunes to her eternal resting place. Psalms were recited, words were spoken, and tears were shed. She was a loving wife to Scott and a devoted mother to her 13 year-old daughter, Elisabeth. In a thousand ways and more, it’s heartbreaking for a child to lose a parent at such a young age. 

This is now the second time in two years that Tamid families have lost young parents to disease. Since their spouses and children continue to participate fully in our school and community gatherings, I hope you will take to heart the words in this letter that could be titled, “mistakes adults make when speaking to young people that have lost a parent.” 

In Jewish practice, there are two immediate stages following a death. Stage one is to “escort the deceased” to their final resting place. Stage two is to “comfort the mourner.” What is the Jewish way to comfort a mourner, especially when the mourner is a child? Our instinct is to care, emote, and to express our feelings of grief and our words of sadness. But that is not the Jewish way.

In the Jewish house of mourning, visitors enter quietly and with humility. Our presence signals our love and concern, and the custom is to wait to speak until after the mourner greets you. The rule is to “speak second” rather than “speak first.” This allows the mourner to lead with their feelings and for you, the sensitive listener, it’s your cue on how to respond in order to “comfort the mourner” with compassion on their terms. 

Something I tell kids in grief is that “some adults are going to say unusual things to you about your mom, and they are going to treat you in surprising ways. Some will get it right but others may not. Try not to let it bother you if they say things like, “Oh, honey, you must miss your mom terribly.” Or, “Your mother loved you so much. She would have loved to be here to see you.” Or, “This must be so hard on you and your dad. You’re so brave.” 

Like a kid does not already know this? Like they need you to

remind them or to make this the topic of conversation? 

You’re thinking, “I want that child to know that I know about her mom and that I care.” She’s thinking, “I’m just on my way to get a cookie with my friend from the dessert table before we text message our camp friend.” 

Or, if you do get talking, maybe the child just wants to tell you that she got an “A” on a science test, won the volleyball game, or competed last week at debate club, rather than speaking about mom. This is why Jewish tradition teaches us to “speak second.”

“Speaking second” is not easy, and I’m not trying to direct how you behave. Rather, I’m trying to protect our children so that Tamid is always a safe place for them, on their terms. My suggestion is to say something like, “It’s nice to see you.” And then follow their lead, let them guide you. 

Some of you know that when we socialize at Tamid gatherings, I often interrupt conversations I’m having with adults to introduce a young person. Kids feel important when adults recognize them and say “it's nice to see you.” I ask that you show up at Tamid in a similar way. And please continue to show up--the power of real community is one of the most important elements of our lives.

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