Katriel Reichman

When Personal Grief Collides With War (and Summer)

Image by using DALL-E by OpenAI

What happens when the structured Jewish grief process meets a messy lived experience? When friends, neighbors, and family are in summer vacation mode, but you are still in a dark place. When war in Israel amplifies (or overshadows) personal loss.

Fortunately, I had the chance to explore these questions with Dr. Adam Miller, a clinical psychologist specializing in grief and loss. Dr. Miller is a former pulpit rabbi deeply embedded in the Jewish community. He brings real-life perspectives that can help us better understand our struggles with grief and loss and better support friends and neighbors.

Any insights should be attributed to Dr. Miller and his experiences at Hamkome —  a clinical psychology practice in The Five Towns specializing in healing and growth from loss. Any errors are my own.

Structured Grieving: 7 days, 30 days, 12 months

Jewish mourning practices are deeply rooted in tradition, with each stage offering specific benefits designed to support the mourner through their journey of loss. The initial seven-day period of Shiva allows mourners to immerse themselves fully in their grief. Ideally, they are surrounded by family and friends. This intense period of mourning is a sharp break from the demands of daily life, allowing the bereaved to begin processing their loss in a supportive environment.

The next phase, Shloshim, marks the first thirty days of mourning. This period encourages mourners to gradually re-enter their daily routines while observing certain restrictions and customs. It balances the need to return to life’s responsibilities with the necessity of continued mourning, offering a gentle transition back into the world.

For the loss of a parent, Jewish law prescribes an additional eleven months of mourning,  with fewer restrictions than the Shloshim. This extended time allows for deeper reflection and healing.

The annual commemoration, Yahrzeit, allows families to come together and remember their loss. Publicly saying kaddish on the Yahrzeit facilitates sharing individual pain with the community that is a minyan and encourages support from the other members of the minyan.

When Grief Deviates from Tradition

Despite the wisdom embedded in these traditions, grief is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Individuals may find that their personal journey of mourning does not align neatly with the prescribed timelines. This misalignment can be particularly challenging in a society that increasingly values individual experiences over communal practices.

When grief extends beyond these structured periods, individuals might feel isolated or as if they are grieving “incorrectly.” There is no correct or incorrect way to mourn. Deviations from the halachic timelines are normal.

Open communication with loved ones and seeking professional guidance can provide support when traditional structures fall short.

When Personal Loss Intersects with Communal Disaster

The complexity of grief is further compounded when personal loss coincides with a communal or national disaster, such as the current war. In such times, individual sorrow is often amplified by the broader context of shared suffering and societal upheaval. Families mourning a personal loss may find their grief intersecting with the collective anguish of their community, creating a unique and overwhelming emotional burden.

The rituals and milestones of Jewish mourning can offer some solace by providing a structured way to process grief. Yet, they may also need to be adapted to accommodate the broader sense of loss and trauma experienced by the community. Finding a balance between honoring personal grief and acknowledging the collective tragedy is essential. This might involve participating in communal memorials for fallen Israelis or hostages while also creating private moments of remembrance for the more personal loss. It is possible to weave personal mourning into the fabric of national resilience.

Summer: A Season of Intensified Grief

The summer months, often filled with vacations, reunions, and social gatherings, can amplify the sense of isolation for those grieving. When the world around them seems to celebrate life,  the bereaved may feel their loss more acutely. The contrast between their internal sorrow and the external celebration can deepen loneliness and despair.

During the summer and the upcoming holidays (Rosh Hashana, Succot, Hanukah, and beyond), be mindful of your emotions and the feelings of those around you. Recognizing the potential for intensified grief during the summer can help individuals and their support networks take proactive steps to address these challenges.

Is this really a topic that we need to consider when Israel is fighting on multiple fronts? Absolutely. We will emerge from the war and need to think about building a more resilient future. Hamakome, led by clinical psychologist Dr. Adam Miller, can be an essential resource for communities, families, and individuals.

Five Ways to Navigate Grief in the Summer and Holidays

  1. Acknowledge Feelings: Allow yourself or your grieving loved one to express their emotions without judgment. Acknowledging feelings of sadness or isolation is a crucial step in managing them.
  2. Create New Traditions: If traditional gatherings are too painful, consider creating new rituals that honor the memory of the deceased while accommodating the mourner’s current emotional state. For example, you might tell a story about the person you lost at a summer barbecue or include a favorite recipe in the family holiday meal.
  3. Seek Support: Encourage support groups or therapy where individuals can share their experiences with others who understand their pain. If you are unsure if you need help with grief, this is the time to get a professional grief assessment from a therapist who understands loss.
  4. Stay Connected: Even if participation in large gatherings is impossible, maintaining connections through smaller, more intimate meetings can provide a sense of community and support. If you cannot join a big family event during the mourning period, reach out to meet individuals who understand you during this period.
  5. Take Action: Engaging in activities that promote well-being, such as exercise or getting enough sleep, can help you build the internal resources to manage the emotional strain of grief. Actions that can help preserve the legacy of your loved one, such as recording memories or charity, can give you a sense of control.

Post-Traumatic Growth After Grief Is Possible

While the structured approach to mourning in Jewish tradition offers a valuable framework for navigating the complexities of grief, each individual has a unique grief journey. Deviations from traditional milestones are entirely normal. By being mindful of the intensified challenges that holidays and summer vacations can bring, we can better support ourselves and others through the intricate mourning process.

Ideally, grief can lead to growth. In many cases, the mourner can emerge with greater resilience, empathy for others, deeper relationships, an ability to embrace the present, and spiritual growth. Recovery from loss can provide a key to opening doors that may have been closed in our minds. Loss can be a stimulus to reimagine possibilities and embrace the potential for transformation.

Growth from loss can be the most meaningful way to honor the legacy of the person we mourn.

This article is part of a series of Summer 2024 articles written while we are at war. Instead of being distracted by the war, this summer series hopes to use the extra tension and energy to focus on building a better future for all of us — in Israel and abroad.

A previous post focused on how parents, families, and schools can better support kids with ADHD. Upcoming posts will focus on opening communications across denominational and geographic divides, and meeting Israelis who are working hard to change the nature of the conversation in Israel. The common theme for this series is what happens when you realize that there is no adult in charge—and it’s all up to you.

About the Author
CEO of MethodM Ltd. Working hard to match clients and therapists (,, and enthusiastic advocate for trial and error in technology and content management (
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