How are you choosing to feel right now? Happy, sad, annoyed, distressed?
Perhaps you know someone, as I do, who can look at a glass that is 90 percent full, and only focus on the 10 percent that isn’t there.
In times of stress, it’s very easy to look at the empty part of the glass, instead of at the full part of the glass.
These feelings of emptiness are exacerbated at holiday times — especially when some of us are looking at empty chairs instead of just the empty part of a glass.
A dear friend and mentor offered the suggestion that, moment to moment, we can actually choose how we feel.
This means that it is also possible, albeit sometimes a struggle, to seek out things for which we can be grateful.
Happiness is not what makes us feel grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy. Dr. David Steindel-Rast
However, it is crucial to our emotional health to allow ourselves to also feel our grief, especially during that first year of loss, facing all those first times without the loved one present to fill his or her chair.
Choosing to dive into that seemingly bottomless well of grief is a truly painful and exhausting process. Yes, if we do not do so, those unacknowledged feelings sabotage our ability to fully experience the gratitude and joy that can abound in our lives.
The wisdom of my Jewish tradition builds into the year specific times to allow us to process that grief with the loving support of our community. I refer in particular to the following practices:
- Sitting shiva – observing an official period (up to a week) of mourning, in which people can visit (now via Zoom) to share loving, and sometimes humorous, memories of the deceased
- Yarzeit – observing the yearly anniversary of the passing of the loved one by lighting a Yarzeit light and attending services to say the Kaddish prayer along with other mourners
- Yizkor – a service observed at four holidays during the year (most notably on Yom Kippur), when the entire congregation gathers to remember and mourn those who have passed.
The following poem was written by the dear rabbi of my childhood and young adulthood. It allows me to both feel my grief for those who have died, as well as gratitude for their lives. I share it with you in the hope that you will find it as consoling and affirming as I do.
by Rabbi Morris Adler
The earth has covered only that which was mortal
Of those to whom we have said our farewell.
We shall not see again
The familiar glowing face, the warm, illuminated eye,
Nor hear the beloved voice.
We shall not sit face to face,
Across the family table, or side by side
In the home of a friend or in worship.
We shall not feel the kiss
That once evoked our deepest response.
Yet death has failed and must surrender
For the beloved who is gone
Lives and will always live through the years,
Not in some distant corner of our being
To be uncovered only in a rare moment
Or by a sudden surge of recall.
The beloved has become a presence indwelling and inseparable,
Rooted so deep that life cannot
Carry us far from the cherished now hallowed center of memory and love.
Your hand, O Death, has been stayed
You can no longer inflict oblivion
Or doom to disappearance
Those who were life of our life.
They live and move within us,
In spheres beyond your dominion.
We thank Thee, O God of life and love,
For the resurrecting gift of memory
Which endows Thy Children fashioned in Thy image
With the God-like sovereign power
To give immortality through love.
Blessed be Thou, O God,
Who enablest Thy children to remember.
I invite you to choose, moment to moment, to focus on the people and things for which you feel grateful — both the dear ones still here, and the precious memories of those who are not.