Thursday, January 25, 2007

"An Emotionally Distraught Time"

(Picture by Roger Colson)

Akiva commenting on Conflicting Emotions:

There are few times when ritual and structure are needed more than death. Though not needed by the primary participant, for family, friends, and community, such an emotional and meaning laden event can perhaps only be dealt with within a firm structure.

Baruch Hashem, I haven't been directly faced with such events very much. While not a young man, only a set of grandparents has left my life. My wife, on the other hand, has lost grandparents and parents and aunts & uncles, becoming in the process a literal expert on mourning and the customs of shiva (as well as the difficult, often extended, processes leading up to the need for such).

I've seen her advise, prepare, and ultimately console others. She speaks of how meaningful each step is, how wise the ways of Torah, our chachamim (our sages), and Hashem, in the kavod (respect) to the departed, and the consolation to the family still here in this world. How the shiva allows the shock to be processed and absorbed at a reasonable pace, how much the human touch of the consolers and people that help mean at such a time, and how it gradually returns the mourners back into the world of the living.

With an area in such need of dignity and humanity to the living, and such a strong desire to treat the departed with respect, it's incredibly difficult in many circumstances today where families are mixed with religious and non-religious, Jewish and non-Jewish, strange secular desires left by the departed, and sometimes greater concern over assets than people. Often we get lucky (so to speak), and it's possible to step into a place of confusion with a template, a plan so to speak, and be gladly accepted as someone who has a way when all others are lost. Other times, firm ideas hold sway and things that violate our understanding of the path of Torah and Hashem are going to occur.

When that's the case, it's time to consult our wise rabbonim (rabbi's), as well as our mashpia (spiritual mentor), for our own emotions will be struggling with our intellect and empathy for others. Consult, and follow the wise advise blindly. When emotions are strong, as they usually are at such times, it's not the time to be doing calculations yourself (such as does respect for the dead override what they might consider a chillul Hashem in confronting the mourners about grossly inappropriate actions and even potential spiritual damage to the deceased????). Even the best meaning intention can cause terrible damage at such an emotionally distraught time.

Be cognizant of the impact to oneself as well. Consult afterwards with one's rav, advisor or friend. Strong emotions need to be processed and settled into their proper place, not let run rampant.

These are great challenges with which to be faced. Recognize it as such and turn to the wisdom of Torah and Hashem, not just for mourning and ritual, but for human relations during a time of powerful emotions and sometimes heightened conflicts between values.

May Hashem help us all react in a worthy fashion at such times.


At January 25, 2007 at 7:18:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Akiva: In the comments in the last posting, the general theme seemed to be telling me that I can't change people. I am not a person who tries to impose my belief system on others so I don't completely understand what these comments are trying to tell me. In the case of the funeral, I sat there silently. Are people taking issue with this, or with the fact that I felt these feelings and gave expression to them on this blog?

It was a no win situation. My parents also attended the funeral and I spoke to my mother about it a few days later. When I asked her to analyze it by putting religion on the side and look at it purely on an etiquette level - that of showing reverence/respect while in the presence of a deceased person - she told me that both her and my father thought that I had a valid point and the agreed with the accuracy of my observation. They also agreed that much of what transpired at the funeral was in very poor taste.

At January 25, 2007 at 8:00:00 AM EST, Blogger Akiva said...

If you had just walked into an office meeting and noticed that a few people were being mildly disrespectful to the boss, a few were doodling, whispering, using their laptop to check the sports pages, you'd just ignore it and go about your job of paying attention.

You might note it in a glancing way, "oh there's David again" and glance away.

But at a funeral, your strong emotions fire the thoughts.

People are surprised because the path of chassidus is ahavat yisroel. Even drawing a mental rebuke picture is out of character. And not such a good thing, leading to certain situations in Shamayim.

But it's a funeral of someone you cared for. And a very difficult situation.

Your response was not unreasonable, especially considering you kept in fully internal. Yet, you should discuss with your mashpia whether this unconvered a previously hidden area for further improvement. If so, then Shamayim has given you an opportunity through these circumstances.

At January 25, 2007 at 8:03:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Akiva: You have comforted me. Thank you my friend.


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