Excerpted from “Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow: When a Jewish Child Dies.” Reprinted with permission of the author.
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me…” (Psalms 23:4)
Helping Your Friends Help You
It is very difficult for someone who has not suffered the loss of a child to comprehend the total devastation that a bereaved parent feels, especially in the early weeks and months. Some friends and relatives will feel so unable to communicate with you that they will stay away. The desertion may be temporary, and it may be long-term. If you feel so strongly about a particular individual’s absence from your life that you want to reach out, do so. But always keep in mind that your own well-being must come first.
Some people may express their concern in a blaming way, as Job’s “friends” did in the Bible. Although they may honestly believe that they have your welfare at heart, it is best to protect yourself by eliminating such people from your life, at least at this time. It may be hard to exclude a well-intentioned person, but you are very vulnerable, you have enough problems, and you do not need anyone around you who cannot be genuinely sympathetic.
Birthdays, Yahrzeits and Holidays
Certain times of year and particular dates on the calendar may trigger increased anxiety and unhappiness. Most common are the approaching birthday of the child, his death date, and holidays that held special significance for him or for the family as a unit. Becky’s birthday, June 15, is always a tough day for me. But some years the intensity is even greater because it coincides with Father’s Day. Since the Hebrew date of death rarely is the same as the secular date, the death anniversary (yahrzeit) each year is a two-edged sword. You may go to services to recite kaddish, and light the memorial candle on the yahrzeit, but the universally accepted calendar date will be there as well; thus, a potential double-whammy.