I am sick today, but I’m not going to complain because I’ve been pretty healthy (physically, anyway) for a while now. I did, however, receive bad news. I found out that the father of one of my children’s classmates died unexpectedly last weekend. He was only a few years older than I am.
I hear the news and immediately whisper the bracha “Baruch dayan emet.” And then all I can think of is how this woman I’ve known for several years now has just lost her husband and has two young children to care for. It is, in a way, normal to lose one’s parents. Better that one should bury one’s parents than bury one’s child. But losing a life partner…it pains and frightens me all at once.
I could not speak on the phone so my husband called the family to offer his condolences, child care, meals. I am still in shock. I spoke to this man less than a month ago. He was too young to die now!
This news brings up not-yet-healed grief of my own. I want so much to reach out to this woman and her children and at the same time I am so anxious. I fear that I will become overwhelmed by our shared grief and I will lose myself. I fear that my anxiety and depression will prevent me from connecting. I fear that I cannot step outside myself enough to be helpful to her.
I sent an email to my rabbi asking for suggestions. He said that she will need support not just for the short term but also for the long term. I know he is right. I had a lot of support for a few weeks after my mother’s death, and then it trickled away. Offers to check in with me in a month or go for a walk or get together for lunch disappeared. I know they meant well, but I really could have used some of that support a month or two or even six months after her death, and it was not there.
I hope that I can use that experience to create a different reality for this woman. My mother-in-law still mourns the loss of her husband, ten years later. My mother struggled with severe depression and suicidal thoughts after my father died. That is my only reference for losing one’s spouse. I pray that she has a strong support system through her synagogue and that I can find the continued strength to be there for her as well.