It is five o’clock in the morning. I cannot sleep so I sit at my computer and I write. Sleep evades me. My thoughts flow endlessly. It is now three months since the death of my beloved wife but she is with me constantly in heart, in soul and in mind. The pain of her loss has not diminished and I doubt that it ever will.
I am like Humpty-Dumpty who fell from the wall. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put Humpty-Dumpty together again”. There is no glue to mend the pieces of a broken heart.
I think of dying and death. The process of dying can often be painless. There are medications to bring comfort and to lessen pain. In the dying process one can still speak and communicate with loved ones. But in death there is no further communication. The light of life has been extinguished and all that remains is darkness and despair.
My daughter goes to a bereavement and grief counseling program in an effort to find the salve necessary to heal her emotional wounds. I do not go. For me, therapy is only temporary. The mind continues to remember and with memory there is pain… a pain that gradually may lessen but can never heal.
In the apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus (not to be confused with Ecclesiastes), the author Ben Sira has written: ‘Fear not death for we are all destined to die. We share it with all who ever lived and with all who ever will be. Bewail the dead, hide not your grief; do not restrain your mourning. But remember that continuing sorrow is worse than death. When the dead are at rest, let their memory rest and be consoled when the soul departs. Death is better than a life of pain and eternal rest than constant sickness……”
I read Ben Sira’s thoughts over and over again, yet they bring me little comfort. So I look to the Talmud for guidance and I find a Talmudic parable, one of many.
A king had a vineyard and he hired a number of laborers, one of whom worked more diligently and better than the others. What did the king do? He took him by the hand and showed him friendship and walked in the vineyard conversing with him. In the evening all the laborers came to receive their wages and the king paid that laborer too for a full day’s work. Then the other laborers became angry. They said to the king, “Behold, we have worked for you the whole day, whereas this man has worked only a few hours”. And the king replied: “Why do you speak this way? Consider that this man, in a few hours, did more work for me than all of you who toiled the whole day long”.
This parable teaches us that “WE LIVE IN DEEDS, NOT YEARS. IT IS NOT HOW MUCH WE HAVE LIVED, BUT HOW MUCH WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED. IT IS NOT HOW LONG WE HAVE LIVED, BUT HOW WELL WE HAVE LIVED.”
Even Humpty-Dumpty can take comfort from the Talmud’s parable. And if I fall, unlike him, perhaps in time the broken pieces of my heart can be mended.
The American poet, Edgar Guest, expressed it this way in his poem “When Sorrow Comes”:
When sorrow comes, as come it must, in God a man must put his trust.
There is no power in mortal speech, the anguish of his soul to reach.
No voice however sweet and low can comfort him or ease the blow.
He cannot from his fellow-men take strength that will sustain him then.
With all that kindly hands will do and all that love may offer too
He must believe throughout the test that God has willed it for the best……….
When sorrow comes, as come it must, in God a man must place his trust.
With all the wealth which he may own, he cannot meet the test alone,
And only he may stand serene who has a faith on which to lean.
Judaism teaches us to celebrate life as a blessing and occasions of loss can make us more aware of the need to cherish each moment of life that we are given.
So now Humpty-Dumpty returns to his bed, perchance to sleep and to dream of his lost beloved as a blessing and as a gift.