When a Jewish Child Dies

It may feel like walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

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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.mother mourning for her baby son

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.

Your child's favorite holiday celebration may have been the family gathering for Pesach seder or for Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July barbecue and fireworks, or building a sukkah together. A seat at the table will be empty now, and there will be one less pair of hands to help with preparations or plan the festivities.

You may choose to eliminate or alter the way your family commemorates particular holidays, at least for the time being. You may, consciously or otherwise, seek to create new traditions related to a certain occasion. But running away or attempting to ignore a calendar date doesn't work, so you might as well face each of these realities head-on. Since we all grieve differently, this could mean a special trip to the cemetery, a long walk in the woods, or spending the day in bed, crying. You may find comfort in doing something on a birthday or anniversary that your child loved to do--shopping; going to the beach; a particular kind of concert; a ballgame or museum; whatever. For others, just taking care of yourself and getting through the day is paramount.

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Mort Schrag is involved in parent bereavement in Los Angeles.