Human death must be the greatest disaster in the Universe for those who discovered the greatness of humans and that each of us are completely unique and irreplaceable.
Planets continue their tractor around their suns and moons around their planets; star systems and galaxies are not disturbed by the death of anyone in any way. Some find that reassuring and derive from that unresponsiveness that in the greater scheme of things nothing happened. Others find it shocking that what should be the worst of the worst seems to have no cosmic impact. As my mother used to say, in post-Holocaust wonderment: Tomorrow, the sun will rise again as usual. [“Morgen gaat gewoon de zon weer op.“] Implying: you would think that it would not. Unbelievably, life goes on. At her funeral, someone even put a note on her grave with that quote.
There is a lot to love at funerals. People meet who have often not seen each other for years, and honor is spoken where honor is due. Finally a place where people are respected. As a counselor I add: and people sob. Crying, more than indicating bereavement, is a sign that we are in the process of healing or overcoming a loss. Nothing to be sad about.
The only thing that I really hate at a funeral is that someone died. I think we should do funerals before people pass away. The internment can be done later. It spoils the party, you know.
Don’t take for granted crying at funerals. There are cultures so violent that they can only show anger and talk about revenge. They need to bring in women whose job it is to pretend to be crying to help mourners weep. It takes a certain sophistication to stop blaming G-d and enemies.
GOING ALL THE WAY
Anyway, mourning is often done only partially. Rather than that that saves us suffering, that adds unnecessary suffering to life. It pays to take our time to deal with what we did not want to happen – it really does.
It helps to understand why we cry at death. Disappointment. One can read disappointment as proof that Creation failed us. However, there is a more constructive take on it. Disappointment proves that on hindsight we had unrealistic expectations. And we need to. We can’t always know how the future will play out, and we must be optimists to a certain degree to get the most out of life. And when it didn’t work out, we cry about our loss of opportunity to get over it and reconnect to the new reality. And then we find new optimistic goals to attach ourselves to.
[The almost universal reaction of crying at human loss is a clear indication that people were never meant to die, that dying is a temporary dysfunction of mankind that we need to repair.
Even people who say that they would like to die don’t. Rather, they would like suffering to end. Sometimes they also want to decide their death to show that they should be in control and their wishes respected.
In any case, once we can heal all illness, prevent all sickness (and we’re getting there – mark my words) and prevent and heal all aging (hang in there and you may be part of the first immortal generation!) death will be outdated – on condition that we stop murdering each other, that is!
Wanting death to stop does not need to be born from a fear of death. Death is just a terrible waste. We need to rid ourselves from all fears, including dreading to die, because fears hamper the flexible workings of our brains and often lead to exactly what we were so afraid of. People who got rid of their fear of death are still not in favor of it and still mourn death. A waste is a waste.
(G-d issued death so that we would not become overburdened by taking care of previous generations, but the Sages promised us in the Talmud that in the end, He will slaughter the Angel of Death.)]
If crying is overcoming disappointment, we can start mourning before our loved ones die. We also may cry when we pray for healing and plead for calling of death – some hope stays important; even real miracles happen. But we may also cry at the prospect to losing a loved one. All the tears we cry before bereavement don’t need to be cried afterwards. In fact, saying goodbye and letting someone go, go easier when our relationship is its best. Now may be the last chance for anything that should still be said or be talked out.
People who have the good fortune to mourn their own dying (instead of being taken away in an unexpected flash) go through the same thing. It seems that they only need two things to die well: know that they did not live for nothing and a hand to hold ’till the light goes out.
Let my people cry
Even people who are “very religious,” who have put their life’s future into G-d’s hands, still need to cry at losing a loved one. If they don’t, the quality of their lives goes downhill for sure. Suddenly, emotional problems you thought you left behind decades ago pop up again. Getting out of bed and smiling become a hard job. Life looks bleak. What’s going on? You skipped mourning. Fortunately, the brain remembers. It’s all still there to cry about, setting you free at last.
Though there is a widespread misunderstanding equating crying with suffering (instead of: overcoming suffering), most people would agree that in the case of death of a loved one, crying is OK. However, that’s at a level. If one cries “too much” one should dim it. Otherwise one would become crazy, be lost in sadness. This is nonsense. No one ever cried “too much,” “too long” or “too strongly.” The more the better. The bigger the relief afterwards.
There is also no “wrong way” to cry. Someone who cries desperately, after the crying will feel more calm and hopeful. We don’t need to “correct” mourners. “Don’t just do something; be an environment in which healing can take place.”
During mourning, I did find a deep need to connect to beauty, goodness and hope, to offset the depressing loss. It’s hard to keep crying when you’re drowning in your own tears and sadness.
People who try to “comfort” mourners by distracting them, “cheering them up,” often claim that they do that because of “empathy.” They feel for them. In truth, they only try to stop others from crying because they can’t stand to feel their own sorrow. Instead of crying along (softly), they stop themselves and then the ones they were supposed to listen to.
More needed than anything are people who will listen. How can we talk when people talk to (at) us? Shut up, bear the discomfort and listen.
Letting you talk is a good way to get to your tears, but sometimes our talking happens instead of crying. Then a hug or a kiss may help. Not to stifle the person, but to create more space for tears by your closeness.
Jewish Law bans touch between partners when they are mourners. That is good because sex can distract from actually mourning. But literally being out of touch with your best friend can be so painful that some partners simply cannot follow this. There is a construction that could help: a kosher hug.
[There is a kosher way to hug when Jewish Law forbids it. If A and B want to hug but shouldn’t, this is a solution. Bring in two more people: C and D, whereby A and C are allowed to hug and B and D also. Have C and D stand back-to-back – they don’t need to touch. Now have A hug C and B hug D whereby A and B look at each other. It works. ©MMvZ]
Any chemical that manipulates the brain makes the mourning work less well. Alcohol, tobacco, tranquilizers, energizers, sleeping pills, caffeine, pain killers, etc. You want the need to cry and talk about your loss to be over as quickly as possible, don’t drug yourself at all. And take naps.
Some tears only come when we express our anger. Don’t do that in front of people who demand correct speech, no matter what. If it’s hard to be angry at people, be angry at G-d – He can take it! He loves us and wants us to get over this and make the best of our lives. Don’t just grumble; be furious! Spell it out.
A mourner who asks “Why?” doesn’t need philosophical answers or distraction. Rather, invite that question again and again, until the tears come. Welcome the angry words. Answers can wait. (They normally come after the tears.)
Don’t “justify” a mourner, including yourself, away from crying. “At least, she doesn’t suffer anymore.” Right, so now you can mourn. How sad are you at your loss?
Especially, people who took care of the diseased for a long time selflessly may have a hard time now to make space for their loss. They may also be overwhelmed by relief that their hard work – even if done from love – is over. They may feel guilty at their feelings of relief. Talking enough about their relief and guilt will bring up their sadness.
Rightly so, Jewish mourning practices have been praised a lot. However, they don’t always work for everyone. If you lost your best friend but the close family members can’t stand you, the whole ritual has no place for you – despite your monumental loss. Assemble with your friends instead.
It is a mistake to think that crying should stop at a week, month, year, decade. Let the bereaved person’s mind be in charge of that. It’s also not true that in the end, all hurts will heal. How can loss of the love of your life or a child ever heal fully? An avalanche of loss (Holocaust) might be too much to handle. Meanwhile, all the mourning still does help.
Not by tears alone
We often see that people’s mourning is cut short for no good reason at all. There are more than words and tears to shed. We need to laugh off emotions. While tears and laughs can be from joy, they can also be from sadness and discomfort. Give them a place!
Making daring “jokes,” making fun of terror, is a great way to get rid of some pretty heavy fears. Declaring happily “By the way, I’m ready to die myself right now” can be a potent way to get some fear of death out of the way. (Don’t worry, the Angle of Death knows the difference between giving up on our lives and just scorning our fear of death. He won’t see this as giving permission – hopefully.) Laughing, perspiring cold or hot sweat and shivering greatly help losing fears. Don’t stifle natural healing!
Silence, yawning and sighing also need to happen. Don’t let silly rules of etiquette, decorum or manners take away what you need to do.
The yearly commemoration of someone’s death doesn’t have to be a sad affair. Instead, we may celebrate having known this person, point out every year why we’re grateful about having had this person in our lives.
Don’t stop the communication
A major course of ongoing hurt after someone passed away seems to be in the West that the bereaved stop talking to their passed-on loved ones. One doesn’t need to make the loss worse than it is already.
Even those who do not believe in an Afterlife (or don’t know if they can believe in it) can still talk to the place their loved one left in their “heart” – mind. It can be anything, from mundane (Good morning, how are you?) to sharing deep questions (Shall I move to be closer to our kids?). Don’t cut yourself off more than Death has done already.
Hunger can be stilled by nourishment. Thirst can be stilled by water. Tiredness can be stilled by sleep. Loneliness can be stilled by companionship. Indifference can be stilled by love. Sickness can be stilled by healing. Loss can be stilled by mourning. Use it.