Gratitude – A Lesson from Love and Loss

59 years of marriage.

Two children.

Three grandchildren.

A life filled with the blessings of love, friendship, joy, shared passions.

A life filled with meaning and purpose, community, Jewish living and serving others.

A few days ago, as we sat and ate lunch together, I listened to the beautiful story of my congregant and his wife. How he served in the Armed Forces, how they raised a family, worked hard in their professions and how they gave back to their community in so very many ways.

His wife died this past November after almost 59 years of marriage. He told me that at first, he would wake up in the morning and turn to her side of the bed, look for her…and realize that she wasn’t coming back.

She tried to prepare him for this moment when she first became ill. She taught him how to cook, how to cope on his own.

His children and grandchildren call him every day. And he realized that even though his beloved is gone, he is still alive.

His wife is still with him each and every day. She lives in his heart, his mind and his memory. Her presence reminds him that he must live his life to its fullest. So he is trying his best.

His overwhelming feeling now is a sense of GRATITUDE. Gratitude for the years they spent together, for the life they built, for the children they raised, for the works of their hands and the deeds of their hearts.

He puts one foot in front of the other. He finds fulfillment in his many friendships, music and community. His children and grandchildren are great sources of pride and joy, who share some of his passions and sense of adventure. And now that he has time, he is volunteering again. For him, “gratitude” means opening your heart and hands to others.

Despite his sadness and pain at the death of his beloved wife, my beautiful congregant exemplifies our Jewish custom of reciting “modeh ani” – “I thank you” to the Eternal each and every morning. When we recite “modeh ani” each morning, we thank God for allowing us to awake once again to a new day, to live our lives with meaning and purpose, with joy and contentment, and to make a difference in this world.

May he have many more years of living life with gratitude, joy and meaning. May we be inspired to do the same.

About the Author
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel is the Rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, Long Island. Her career has extended from leading congregations to leading national organizations. She is passionate about Israel, social justice and enabling others to use Jewish living as a lens to living life with meaning and purpose. Rabbi Sobel is a fitness and food enthusiast. She views food as a catalyst for creating community and welcoming. (She is a secret “Iron-Chef Wanna-be”). She truly sees her table as a “mikdash m’at – a miniature alter”, a place where the holy and the ordinary come together. The daughter of a Reform rabbi (Rabbi Richard J. Sobel, z”l, from Glens Falls, NY), Rabbi Sobel was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, in May, 1989. She received her undergraduate degree in Mass Communications from Boston University’s School of Public Communications.
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