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Mourning Together

How do we mourn well? I’ve been thinking about this question the last few days. Sunday morning I received a call that an old coworker/friend took his own life on Saturday night. He was the person I shared the most laughs with and cracked the most jokes with during our time working together. He was the epitome of sunshine and warmth.

And while overcome with my own grief as I processed the news, I couldn’t help but think about how everyone else would grieve his death. How would our fellow coworkers grieve? He was a youth pastor, so how would the youth at his church grieve and make sense of this loss? How would his mother and father say goodbye to their beloved son?

What do we say to ourselves when we’re grieving? What do we say to others? What do we say to God?

I don’t have the right words. I will never know the right thing to say to myself, to others, or to God when a tragedy like this occurs. However, I do have the actions. One of my favorite parts of being half jewish is how we mourn. When someone dies, the whole community and synagogue gathers for seven nights following the burial to sit shiva together. Everyone brings food and drink. The rabbi and cantor come and lead the mourner’s kaddish along with songs and other prayers. The family who lost a loved one is fed, prayed for, and surrounded by their community every night for seven nights.

In the jewish community, death and mourning is not an individual experience or burden. It is one shouldered and shared among every member of the community. No one is allowed to be left alone in their grief. No one is allowed to cry and question alone. No one is even allowed to eat alone. The community has created traditions and practices to ensure families and friends can process their grief together.

So when I don’t have the words to pray or express my grief, I have the actions. My hands reach for the yeast and water and flour to form the dough for challah. My grief rises with the rising of the dough. My sadness is beat down as I deflate the dough after the first rise. My questions weave in and out of my mind as I shape the dough into decorative knots. My soul rests as the challah browns in the heat of the oven.

I gathered a couple friends to break the bread with me (incorporating the hope of Jesus’s body into my Jewish practices). We lit the yahrzeit candle in his memory. We said the kaddish in unison.

The last lines of the kaddish say, “May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen. He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.”

The prayer recognizes the need for individual peace and healing, but it connects that healing to the greater community. All of Israel mourns together. All of Israel asks for peace together.

So as I ask the question how do we mourn well, the only answer that comes to mind is we can only mourn well together. We cannot mourn well by ourselves or even just with our families. We can only mourn well when we gather as a community and bear the sadness and grief together.

by Katie Best-Richmond, Pastor of Stewardship

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