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Grief, loss and Holy Days

Friday, September 23, 2011
By Diane Snyder-Cowan
Reprinted in Cleveland Jewish News
While much is written about grieving during Thanksgiving and the many December holidays, not much attention has been given to the difficulty of coping during the Jewish High Holy season.

Happy New Year. May you be inscribed in the book of life …

This sentiment is expressed by many well-intentioned individuals throughout the Jewish High Holy Days. However, if you have recently experienced the death of a loved one, these greetings may be difficult to hear.

Family members gather to celebrate with traditional foods. Communities come together to worship. These can act as a trigger for the newly bereaved. As families dip apples in honey to ensure a sweet new year, the grieving individual may be wondering if life will ever be sweet again. If you are caring for a loved one with a terminal illness or have just buried your loved one, the holidays can bring sadness and loneliness. People who grieve may, in fact, dread this time of year because they don’t feel happy. They may want to skip the holidays altogether.

There are many significant days for the bereaved throughout the year – birthdays, anniversaries, secular holidays, and the religious holidays. High Holy Day services elucidate the fragility of life with many life-and-death themes. While some find solace and comfort in the synagogue through singing, meditation and reading sacred poems, others may feel it is just too much.

Everyone reacts differently. There is no right or wrong away to celebrate after a loved one has died.

People who are grieving often do not have the emotional or physical energy to celebrate the holidays as have they done in the past. Communicate with family and friends. Let others know when you are not up to attending a gathering.

Think about including the deceased in your holiday. You may want to honor your loved one by sharing stories, reminiscing about past holidays, toasting your loved one’s memory, or doing a kind deed as a tribute.

Be kind and gentle to yourself. Honor your time to grieve.

Diane Snyder Cowan is director of the Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center at Hospice of the Western Reserve. This article was excerpted from her blog and originally published Sept. 17, 2010.


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