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"MOURNING & Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner's Path Through Grief to Healing"

Mourning as a Process - excerpted from: 

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by permission of Rabbi Anne Brener

4 minute read

pages 21-24; published by JEWISH LIGHTS. Copyright 1993.

AS YOU BEGIN your walk on the mourners' path, I want to make sure that you understand one phrase: "mourning process." This will give you an idea of what lies ahead.


“Process” implies that things change over time and that there are ways to encourage that change to happen. It tells us that what we feel at one moment is not necessarily what we feel at another.

Our society does not value process. We like things ready-made.  We eat precooked food that is packaged for the microwave. We eat it without acknowledging the farmer, the trucker, the grocer, or the living spark of creation which is part of every fruit, vegetable, or lamb chop on our table.

So it is with our emotional life. We expect to be healed without acknowledging the rupture. We expect to arrive at our destination with no journey. But the process of healing requires a journey for which there is no shortcut. It requires us to acknowledge the variety of emotions that accompany a loss. Recognizing and expressing these difficult and varied feelings is the only way back from the world of mourning.

You May Not Recognize Your Behavior

You say that you don't recognize yourself? That you behave in ways that seem totally alien to you? You keep losing things or having outbursts of anger? You think that you are going crazy? Hearing this does not worry me. In fact, when one of my psychotherapy clients tells me that this is what is going on, I am often relieved. If this is true of you, it is likely to mean that your current difficulties are not the sign of a serious disorder that has been lurking for a lifetime. The fact that the behavior is so alien to you indicates that you are probably suffering a grief reaction or what my profession also calls a “situational” or “adjustment disorder.” This is a direct reaction to a clear stress. It can be dealt with—if you are willing to risk opening yourself up.

This is not an easy thing to do. Suppressed emotion, stored near the surface, can be terrifying. Many fear that if the lid is taken off, the outpouring of tears or anger will never stop. But as I've said before, it is only the unfelt feelings that do not change. The pain or anger or whatever feeling is associated with the grief continues for a while, and then the bottom is reached, or things change, or a different emotion surfaces.

Avoiding your feelings means avoiding your own depth. It means avoiding the transforming experiences that life offers and failing to come to terms with your own personal history. Avoiding a feeling only prolongs it. Becoming familiar with the dimensions of the pain allows you to be less frightened and to cope more readily when the feeling comes up again. By overcoming the fear that suppresses the feelings, we become privy to the richness of our inner life.

Making The Choice to Heal

To say it simply: Our lives can teach us lessons. In this learning process, we have two choices: we can deny the learning and hold fast to our original vision of ourselves, the world and the way ”it ought to be.” Or we can let it our history be our teacher. It is this latter path that yields wisdom and understanding.

I have certainly had to struggle with this choice. This isn't what I had planned for my life. I would not have set out to become an expert on mourning. But this is the life that I was given.

There is a story about Reb Zusia, an 18th century Chassidic Master. Zusia said, “When God calls me, I will not be taken to account about why I was not a better Moses or a better Abraham. I will have to account for why I was not a better Zusia.”

Like Zusia I had a choice about whose life I would live. I could spend my life yearning for what might have been, rallying against what was, or I could tell the truth about my life and use it as my teacher, taking every turn as a challenge for growth.

The difficulty in surrendering to process is that there is no road map. I can't tell you what will experience along the way or who you will be when you get there. I can tell you that it isn't going to be easy, that it may get worse before it gets better, and that the alternatives to taking this journey are worse than the journey itself. These alternatives may include depression, prolonged numbness, decreased satisfaction with your remaining relationships, addiction, emotional difficulties which manifest as physical symptoms or significantly less zest for living.

Do these sound like satisfactory alternatives to facing the feelings of loss? If you are open enough to have read this far, they probably do not.

I'll say it once more. The one thing that I do know with certainty from my own struggles and from being midwife to countless others as they face their dark sides: Feelings that find expression change. And that change is the process that brings transformation.

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