I recently suffered the deep loss of a parent. The day after I got up from shiva, we celebrated the bar mitzvah of my first grandson. To say that I was an emotional wreck is an understatement. As the sandwich generation, we all find ourselves navigating very conflicting emotions. What advice can you give so that I respect my loss and also celebrate my grandchild’s special day?
Our lives are filled with ups and downs, and lots of upside-downs too! We’re in the midst of a long, difficult exile. The painful moments are reminders that life is not perfect. There is much for us to aspire to, much to long for. Many people shed tears at their happiest moments. Tears are the language of the soul. Subconsciously, we sense that our simchah is not complete. Loved ones are missing. The Shechina is in galus. Those tears are indicative of the void in our lives. Az yemaleh s’chok pinu (then our mouth will be filled with laughter); only then will our simchos be complete.
Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of men, teaches us that there are distinct periods within each of our lives. There is a time to love, a time to hate; a time to plant, a time to uproot; a time of peace, a time of war; a time of joy, a time of sadness. There may be moments in our lives when we’re dealing with complex emotions simultaneously. I’ve heard prominent rabbonim discussing their day. They may begin with a bris in the morning, then head off to a levaya, ending the day with a wedding. How do they do it?
Be assured that as challenging as that may be, Hashem graces us with the emotional stamina to carry on. As members of Klal Yisrael, we have remarkable genes. Our people have been through unspeakable tragedies, and yet have rebuilt. Studying Jewish history and learning about individual people and their personal stories, we are struck by their courage and fortitude. Their traits have been bequeathed to us. We must believe in ourselves. We do have the emotional stamina necessary.
At times of emotional turmoil, I would suggest that we do our utmost to indulge in personal care. Davka, during these challenging times, we should make sure to eat healthily; doughnuts and coffee in the morning will not provide the energy and nutrients needed. Sufficient sleep is crucial. Exercise, daily walks, deep breathing and fresh air are essential to our emotional well-being. Let’s make sure we have a mentor/coach/friend to help us through. And, of course, daven.
We all yearn for the day when our joyous moments will be totally joyous, as we celebrate together in Yerushalayim habenuya!
Six years ago I called my daughter, from my father-in-law’s hospital bedside, to wish her a happy birthday. Just a few minutes later, he took a turn for the worse and was niftar, rachmana litzlan.
As you ask, how do we handle such conflicting emotions?
Mrs. Miriam Barkin, the beloved and popular Mishlei teacher in Cleveland, likes to point out that this ability to hold two opposing emotions at the same time is exactly what makes man greater than an angel. An angel was created to carry out only one shlichus (mission) at a time. Man, on the other hand, was gifted with an elevated status: the capacity to hold more than one emotion at once—even conflicting ones.
When I’m faced with this type of situation, I remind myself that even through my tears, this is a compliment from Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and I hold my head high.
The petirah of my late father, the Novominsker Rebbe, z’ya, came mostly as a surprise. Although it was during the first severe onslaught of Covid-19, he had already weathered one bout of the infection. It occurred two days before Pesach.
I took a lot of comfort from the fact that my father had the levaya he would have preferred: it was small, there were no hespedim, there was respect for the law and there was no chilul Hashem. Furthermore, my father completed the final hours of his life the way he lived: exerting himself to answer a late phone call request for Kimcha d’Pischa, having spent the day checking on sick people by phone, despite his weakness. He told the Hatzalah members that he was willing to go to the hospital, even though he was fully aware of the dire care and state of admitted hospital patients in New York at the time.
It seemed to me that Hashem gave him kavod ha’acharon and allowed him to go out like the Torah teacher, manhig and baal achrayus that he was. He even finalised a message to Klal Yisrael about the pandemic for the Agudah the day before, and he gave shiurim to talmidim and baalei batim just two days before. He had no pain, and the departure of his neshamah was not prolonged. Hashem had brought him back to headquarters to continue his lifelong service as soldier in His army, but in a different theatre of war.
Pesach came a day and a half later, ending the brief solitary shiva. Without children or congregants in the shul below our home, my husband and I were able to conduct a private chag. It was good to focus on the mitzvos of the day and sing the family niggunim, even though multiple movies of the past played in my head throughout the eight days. I felt soothed by the quiet of lockdown, and the timing. I felt soothed by Hashem’s customised caring for me.
Mazal tov on your grandson’s bar mitzvah. Happy occasions in the form of weddings, bar mitzvahs and healthy new babies are examples of Hashem smiling down on us and showing that He loves us. At the same time, when we have a sad occasion, we know that Hashem loves us as well. “Just as we bless Hashem for the good things, we bless Him for the bad things” say our Sages. Yiddishkeit gives people specific rules for mourning, as well as guidelines for observing simchos. We are not required to remain stoic.
The day before my son’s wedding several years ago, my husband’s mother passed away. My husband was thrown into laws of what he could and couldn’t do during the chasunah; he danced with the chassan and ate separately from the crowd.
Our feelings are reflected in the Torah rituals and actions that are specific for both simchah and sadness. My husband sat shiva, then went to the wedding and then went back to shiva. It was a roller-coaster of emotions, and the love and support of friends and relatives, plus our Torah, guided him.
Hashem created sadness, happiness and other human feelings, and also created within us the ability (with conscious effort) to exercise the difficult task of switching between emotions. One way to do this is to acknowledge that two conflicting realities can be true at the same time. I’m so happy that it’s my loved one’s birthday. I’m so grateful for that blessing of another year of healthy life. At the same time, I’m sad by the loss of so-and-so. If it’s not possible to experience the two feelings simultaneously, one can compartmentalise and have set times for happiness and sadness. By carrying out the actions that are required of us—even without feeling like it—we move into the emotions. May Hashem give all who experience conflicting life-cycle experiences in such short time frames strength to cope. May we have resilience to bounce back with the knowledge that good things are coming soon. May your mother’s neshamah have an aliyah.