Gried and the Space Between Us

The Space Between Us by Rabbi Janet Madden


[Ed. Note: Grief Awareness Day falls on August 30, 2017. — JB]

I recently officiated at the funeral of a man who founded a bank and a medical journal. He trained generations of physicians, funded and spearheaded disaster relief efforts and led medical missions to countries across the world in his lifelong efforts to increase medical knowledge and alleviate suffering. His family and many friends and colleagues gathered to honor his life. They derived comfort from knowing that he was able to pursue the work that he loved until the last months of his life, that his memory is a blessing to those who knew him, and that thousands of people were helped through his work. Grief at his death was balanced with the knowledge that he lived a life of passion and purpose.

Death can bring a new level of intimacy, new kinds of knowledge. When I sat with his family to plan his funeral, they told wonderful stories. I’d known that he was a child violin prodigy and I’d known about his life-long love of classical music, but I was surprised to learn that the Beatles’ “Within You Without You” was his favorite song.

Three days after the funeral, when I made a follow-up phone call to his widow, I found the family in crisis. The previous night, while the recently-buried man’s seven year old great-granddaughter slept in the next room, her mother, his only granddaughter, had hanged herself. Her body had been discovered only a couple of hours before.

Distraught family members asked if I had detected anything unusual about this young woman’s grief. I had not. None of them had perceived anything that suggested that the young woman was not grieving her grandfather’s death as what death professionals assess as “appropriate.” During the following days and the excruciating experiences of police and coroner and preparing for her funeral, the family asked the same questions over and over: how could they not have known that she was in such profound distress? What could they have done differently?

As a spiritual director, a grief counselor and a rabbi, I am well prepared to encounter death. But this is a different kind of death, and the grief that has leveled this family is, I think, unique to those whose loved ones suicide. This is complicated grief—grief knotted up with self-recrimination, confusion, shame, fear, and anger.

I guided the family through this second, tragic funeral as gently and compassionately as I know how to do. I’ve been in constant touch with them. I’ve made referrals to therapists who specialize in working with the families of those who have died by suicide. For her heartbroken parents, honor and comfort and the blessings of memory are distant concepts. I cannot fathom what her seven year old daughter, who woke up expecting to get ready for a day at summer camp and found her mother’s body, is experiencing, and what she will continue to endure throughout her life.

In the days since the young woman’s funeral, I’ve reread the lyrics of her grandfather’s favorite song. What at the time of his death seemed an expression of longing seems, in retrospect, a chilling premonition:

“We were talking about the space between us all

And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion

Never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late, when they pass away…And life flows on within you and without you…”

I am praying for this family. I am praying for all who wall themselves off, concealing their suffering and despair. I am praying for less space between us.

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden, PhD was ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion-California. She serves as the rabbi of Temple Havurat Emet and Providence Saint John’s Health Center and has been a student of the Gamliel Institute.

 [Ed. Note: Rabbi Janet Madden has agreed to submit a series of entries for Expired And Inspired – watch for them to appear fairly regularly, on a more or less monthly basis. — JB]

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017. This is the core course focusing on Taharah and Shmirah ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means.

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There is a Free Preview/Overview of the course being offered on Monday August 14th at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST. You are welcome to join us to decide if this course is one in which you would like to enroll. Contact info@jewish-funerals.org or  j.blair@jewish-funerals.org for information on how to connect to the preview webinar.

There will be an orientation session on how to use the online platform and access the materials on Monday, September 4th, 2017, at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST online. Register or contact us for more information.

Information on attending the online orientation and course will be sent to those registered.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly.

If you are interested in offering a teaching, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have complete three or more Gamliel Institute courses are invited to be on the lookout for information on a series of “Graduate’ Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (in three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series.  The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. The first two series tentatively planned will be on Psalms and on the Death & the Zohar. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge to attend (more information to be sent soon). Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact them, register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

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Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Solitude


I’m doing my laundry on Christmas Eve. The Ebenezer Scrooges who own my building see fit to provide only one dryer for all the residents.

It’s positively Dickensian, I think to myself, as I stand watch over the dryer, lest one of my neighbors cut in line, leaving my laundry in a damp heap to mildew the night away.

“Aren’t you going anywhere tonight?” asks a neighbor, loading her laundry into a washer, wearing perfume and freshly curled hair. I wonder how she knows I have no plans, until I glance down at my cut-off sweatpants and inside-out T-shirt. You don’t have to be Nancy Drew, I suppose.

“Staying in tonight,” I say. I finish the thought only in my head: “though I plan to drink heavily, if that makes you feel better.”

I don’t bother explaining the whole Jew-on-Christmas thing to the poor woman, who’s trailed by a young girl, presumably her daughter, and an obese black cat. The woman leaves and the cat stays behind.

“Hey, kitty,” I say, petting the space between its kitty ears. “Why are you so fat? Huh? Are you old? Are you pregnant? Don’t look at me like that. You’re a cute, fat kitty cat. I’d like to catnap you and take you home. Yeeeessss.”

I’m using that clenched-teeth voice I reserve for cats, babies and boyfriends who are mad at me.

I’m having a meaningful dialogue with a cat because it’s the only living creature I’ve had real contact with in two days.

Everyone has left town, gone home for the holidays. I opted to stay in town, thinking I’d need the rest and solitude after a busy work month.

“Every man needs both solidarity and solitude,” says my dad quite often, quoting I don’t know who.

I’ve had enough solitude, so I drive myself to a nice Christmas Eve movie, “Cast Away.” I chuckle to myself in line, thinking about the time I went to the movies on Christmas and the only other the guy in the theater turned out to be my rabbi, all decked out in a Bill Cosby sweater and enjoying a rare day off.

I allow myself the indulgence of a pack of Milk Duds, as reconstituted caramel and waxy chocolate do take the edge off a lack of companionship. I settle in my seat and look around the theater. I note a fine collection of Jews and society’s castaways — not the Tom Hanks kind but the kind with excessive nose rings, odd overcoats and unfortunate orthodontia. I guess I’m both, minus the headgear.

Here’s a suggestion. If you’re feeling a little socially isolated, do not, do not see a movie about a man all alone on an island for four years with nothing to talk to but a volleyball.

“Merry Christmas,” I say to the usher on my way out. He looks at me as if I were a tainted batch of wassail, and I go on my unmerry way.

I get home, and while not drinking heavily as I silently promised my neighbor, I do take a few tiny nips of Southern Comfort. Please, don’t write letters. I’m only human, people.

I decide that 9 p.m. is way too early to go to sleep and that such an early bedtime will undoubtedly result in my waking at 5 a.m., with nothing to do but watch those bad insomniac news shows and wish I knew how to fish. I decide to bake cookies for my building manager, with whom I’ve been in a gift-giving war all year. With NPR blaring on my portable radio, I measure and stir. I feel productive.

The cookies don’t seem quite right and I can’t trace the culprit. Was it the butter? The eggs? The Southern Comfort?

I tell myself it’s not so bad and continue to scoop the dough onto baking sheets and stick them into the oven.

Earlier in the day, I cleaned like a mad woman. I reorganized my closet, discovered the attachment on my vacuum cleaner that lets you suck all the dirt out of the corners of your rugs. I went to yoga. I read an entire book. Isn’t this what solitude is all about?

For a misanthrope, I sure have failed at taking a dip in Lake Teresa. I want out! I hate Christmas and everyone leaving town so I’m left alone to bake bad cookies and dust every possible surface and talk to cats. Solitude and solidarity, I think to myself. And I agree with my dad’s quote, and hope for balance, and wait for the holiday to end and my world to be repopulated with all the people I didn’t think I’d miss.

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