Con­so­la­tion: The Spir­i­tu­al Jour­ney Beyond Grief

Mau­rice Lamm
  • Review
By – June 27, 2014

This grip­ping book will appeal both to read­ers who have just lost a loved one, and those who have ever lost a loved one. 

Rab­bi Lamm points out that everyone’s mourn­ing expe­ri­ence is unique, but cer­tain ele­ments of suf­fer­ing are com­mon — numb­ness; weep­ing; unrav­el­ing; anger; feel­ing aban­doned, alone or afraid. He illu­mi­nates the char­ac­ter­is­tics of these vari­eties of suf­fer­ing and the wounds they inflict. Draw­ing on Bib­li­cal ref­er­ences and Jew­ish law, Lamm explains cer­tain insights that he sees as essen­tial to heal­ing, such as the grow­ing aware­ness that griev­ing indi­vid­u­als have that we can­not not grieve. Mourn­ing may be post­poned but it will not be denied,” Lamm writes. 

The book con­tains a beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed descrip­tion of shi­va, per­haps the most mean­ing­ful time in a mourner’s tran­si­tion­al jour­ney. With­in the com­pressed expe­ri­ence of shi­va and with­in the invul­ner­a­ble shield of our homes, we can recov­er our bear­ings and refor­mu­late our lives,” writes Rab­bi Lamm. He com­pares Habi­tat Shi­va” to a Sukkah; both are only tem­po­rary shelters.

Again and again Lamm points out the Torah’s invalu­able lessons for deal­ing with the mourner’s most pro­found issues. He notes that on the one hand, the Torah calls the mourn­er Avel,” which means with­draw­ing”: the Torah clear­ly under­stands the mourner’s need for soli­tude. But on the oth­er hand, the Torah instructs friends and neigh­bors of the mourn­er to go to his house to relieve his soli­tude. This shows that the tra­di­tion says that mourn­ers need to have oth­er peo­ple with whom to share their bur­den, to draw them out, to lis­ten, and not to be left in soli­tary confinement.

Rab­bi Lamm pro­vides won­der­ful insights into the many rit­u­als asso­ci­at­ed with the death of a loved one, such as Keri­ah (the tear­ing of clothes), the oth­er ele­ments of the funer­al cer­e­mo­ny, the cov­er­ing of mir­rors in the house of mourn­ing dur­ing shi­va, and the Kad­dish prayer.

For me the high­light of this book is the sev­enth chap­ter, Man Com­forts, G‑d Con­soles.” Lamm states, Jews affirm this very idea through the for­mu­la they recite when they leave a house of Shi­va: May G‑d com­fort you among the mourners.’”

There are do’s and dont’s for pro­vid­ing com­fort to mourn­ers, such as: Do speak of the depart­ed, bring up the good things that he/​she did. One who is pro­vid­ing com­fort should not dwell on his/​her own mourn­ing expe­ri­ences. This might appear to belit­tle the grief of the new­ly bereaved. In chap­ter ten, Lamm dis­cuss­es spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Awound inflict­ed by the breach of death does not cause pain that is mit­i­gat­ed by chem­i­cals, it caus­es suf­fer­ing that needs to be healed by the spir­i­tu­al insights unlocked by our tra­di­tions which address the anguish of the bereaved.”

At the con­clu­sion of the read­ing of this chap­ter, I think the read­er should pause and put the book down. The rest of the book can be gone through if and when the read­er wish­es to con­sid­er such top­ics as: The World Beyond the Grave;” Mak­ing a Future;” and Words for a Loss.”

I would high­ly rec­om­mend this book to any­one who has suf­fered a loss and to those who wish to gain an under­stand­ing of the emo­tions and rit­u­als involved in the Jew­ish way of grieving.

Relat­ed Content

Gene B. Kauf­man is the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Sinai Memo­r­i­al Chapel, San Francisco.

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