Yom Kippur Day Sermon
I WISH YOU ENOUGH.
Recently, I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together at the airport as the daughter's departure had been announced. Standing near the security gate, they hugged, and the mother said:
"I love you and I wish you enough."
The daughter replied, "Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Mom." They kissed and the daughter left.
The mother walked over to the window where I sat. Standing there, I could see she wanted and needed to cry.
I tried not to intrude on her privacy, but she welcomed me in by asking, "Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?"
"Yes, I have," I replied. "Forgive me for asking but why is this a forever good-bye?"
"I am old, and she lives so far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is the next trip back will be for my funeral," she said.
When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, "I wish you enough." May I ask what that means?"
She began to smile. "That's a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone."
She paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail and she smiled even more.
"When we said, 'I wish you enough' we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them".
Then turning to me, she shared the following, reciting it from memory,
"I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye."
She then began to cry and walked away.
They say it takes a minute to find a special person. An hour to appreciate them. A day to love them. And an entire life to forget them.
- Author Unknown
Today, I want to address an issue that may be in the forefront of many of our minds. One of my most cherished and holy responsibilities is being with families when a loved one is dying and then being there for and with them afterwards – from the last few moments of life through the funeral and every day after that. I have officiated at the funeral for children, young adults and even the most life experienced adults. Each time, as I sat down to reflect on the deceased to make sure I gave the proper respect to each of them, I concentrated as hard as I could on the positive. I have refused to consider the how and why of these deaths…for there is no WHY and there is no BECAUSE!
Over the past few months, I have spent a lot of time thinking about life, dying and death. I have been reading, researching and preparing for the Death and Dying Symposium as well as my HHD sermons. This morning, I would like for us to focus on the family members and friends left grieving when a loved one dies.
One of the most important resources I purchased while at Hebrew Union College is Maurice Lamm’s “The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning.” Chapter 3 begins:
“Judaism, with its long history of dealing with the soul of man, its intimate knowledge of man’s strengths and foibles, his grandeur and his weakness, has wisely devised graduated periods during which the mourner may express his grief and release with planned regularity the built-up tensions caused by bereavement. The Jewish religion provides an exquisitely structured approach to mourning.”[i]
I have thought about, listened to, and researched the topic of mourning. There is not one right way to mourn. Yes, Judaism has a proscribed calendar of mourning. These periods of mourning contain various rituals and customs. Nevertheless, I do believe that every person mourns in their own individual way. As I sat down to think about what to write for this sermon, I decided to create a list of questions that I would want to focus on.
I believe that these questions focus on one of the key struggles for all of us right now is: what do we do after a loved one dies? Should we close ourselves off to the rest of the world? Or, should we reach out to those in our lives who are close to us? AND, what do we do or how do we act when those close to us are suffering because of the loss of a loved one? Our community and all Jewish communities throughout the world have spent a lot of time in the past couple of years in pain for a variety of reasons. It is vital, though, to stress that this sermon was guided by an extremely deep pain that I and so many others are feeling.
I do not purport to have all of the answers. What I can do is offer some of my own thoughts as well as the thoughts of scholars, teachers and others in our communities. One of the first sources I turned to was A Practical Guide to Rabbinic Counseling, edited by Yisrael N. Levitz, PH.D. And Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. In Chapter 10, Rabbi Maurice Lamm and Dodi Lee Lamm, MSW write, “…most grief reactions are normal, and most mourners will return to normal functioning. Grief reactions may exhibit all the symptoms of pathology yet be no more than a normal manifestation of mourning.”[ii] While each mourner reacts differently, it can be assumed that some sort of expressive emotions will appear. With the grief time periods that are standard in Judaism, some will return from their immense grief to normalcy even after the initial period of Shiva is over.
Perhaps you have heard of the Grieving Process. This theory, called the Kubler-Ross Model, was developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. This process contains 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Rabbi Lamm and Dodi Lee Lamm continue, “The mourner may appear to have reached a stage of acceptance and everyone might breathe a sigh of relief only to see that anger sets in once again or even for the first time. Saying goodbye and accepting the loss is not a linear progression.”[iii] When comforting or supporting those that are mourning, we need to understand not only the stages of grief but also that one may go from stage to stage every day. It is most important for us to let them know they are supported, and we love them.
A few years ago, I was asked by a congregant how to speak to her children about a loss the family had experienced. I asked for advice from some of my more experienced colleagues. One of my colleagues suggested I turn to “Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy,” a Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner by J. William Worden. First, let me share with you some of my thoughts: young children are not necessarily able to truly understand what “death” means, but that it is something that happens, just not to them.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with Batya after the loss of a young person. When Carlie asked Batya what happened, Batya responded, “He died.” Carlie asked, “How?” Batya then responded, “He hurt himself.” Carlie’s response, “That wasn’t very smart,” showed her ability to understand the severity of what happened. Yet, I have wondered since then if our response to Carlie was appropriate. I do understand that every parent should come to their own conclusions regarding what they tell their children. But, when major events happen in our communities, should we not explain exactly what happened?
J. William Worden presents three views. The first view, expressed by Martha Wolfenstein in 1966, says “that children cannot mourn until there is a complete identity formation, which occurs at the end of adolescence, when the person is fully differentiated.”[iv] Another, different view, expressed by Erna Furman in 1974, says “that children can mourn as early as 3 years of age…”[v] Worden’s view however, suggests “that children do mourn and what is needed is a model of mourning that fits children rather than the imposition of an adult model on children.”[vi] We could look at study after study and I am sure that we would find even more conflicting results. What does this tell us? I believe it suggests that there is NO one right way of approaching these issues.
When catastrophes occur, organizations come together and make decisions about what to do next. Sometimes, unfortunately, though, the decision that is made is the “best of the worst.” Ultimately, communities have to bond together and work together to ensure everyone in their community can mourn or respond how they are most comfortable…and we should always be surrounded by those that love and care for us – that is a MUST!
“May his memory be for a blessing…” “As a result of the actions of her children, she will live on…” “Through their indelible imprints on our lives shall they always be present…”
These three quotes are some of the sayings shared at a funeral or in a house of mourning after the death of a loved one. As we can never really understand death, we attempt to explain that death only pertains to the physical body and that the soul lives on in the next steps of living. Every idea we have about the afterlife illustrates what we value most.
Rabbi Milton Steinberg, in “Basic Judaism,” illuminates the point:
Death cannot be and is not the end of life. Man transcends death in many altogether naturalistic fashions. He may be immortal biologically, through his children; in thought, through the survival of his memory; in influence, by virtue of the continuance of his personality as a force among those who come after him; and ideally, through his identification with the timeless things of the spirit.[vii]
So, we find ourselves in the same place we started. There is no one right way…but then again, what is clear is that we have to speak about the realities of life and death. Having these conversations, using words that will be easy to understand and in safe places, will enable each of us to cope however we are able and need. If we are not given the chance to mourn or cope, or, perhaps, the chance to learn how to mourn and cope, we might be causing more damage. Since I came to Temple Beth El, we have experienced some great moments as well as some difficult ones.
We ought to be able to celebrate our lives as well as support each other when needed.
Dear friends, this day has been and will continue to be long and difficult. Let us bask in the glory and sanctity of our community. Let us take some time to reflect and think about those in our lives who are of the most importance. Please, please, please embrace them, tell them you love them. And, most importantly, know that each and every one of you is of extreme importance in my life (and in the life of my family).
Gmar Chatimah Tovah and Tzom Kal!
[i] The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, by Maurice Lamm, pg. 74
[ii] A Practical Guide to Rabbinic Counseling, Feldheim Publishers, pg. 165
[iii] Ibid, pg. 167
[iv] Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, Springer Publishing Company, pg. 230
[v] Ibid. pg. 230
[vi] Ibid. pg. 231
[vii] Basic Judaism, Harcourt, Brace and World, pg. 160
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