When a Jewish Child Dies

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

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Advance planning on how to cope may help alleviate pain and reduce anxiety. Having people you love around you, and sharing memories, can help. In any event, many people find that anticipation prior to the day is often more difficult than the day itself.

Emotions are also likely to surge when you receive an invitation to a bar or bat-mitzvah, a wedding, or a graduation. Seeing someone completing a life-cycle event, or achieving a goal that your child will never reach, can be extremely upsetting. You may care a lot about the person celebrating--enough, sometimes, that you may be willing to play the martyr and attend. Declining invitations is often risky, and may be misinterpreted, but your primary consideration should be your own feelings. If you are not up to it, tell the host so. A true friend or compassionate relative will understand. If he does not, let it be his problem.

The Power of Prayer

Few phrases are more difficult to recite than "Adonai dayan ha-emet," the pronouncement the bereaved make at the funeral, affirming that "God is the true (or righteous) judge." This expression, which comes more readily to the traditionally religious, may present a problem to others, especially to those whose child is being lowered into the ground. Pronounced with conviction, this statement of faith ushers in a period of prayer and reflection that provides great comfort for many people.

But prayer does not work for everyone. If you did not consider yourself religious (or inclined toward the spiritual aspect of life) before the death of your child, you may be disinclined to move in that direction now. If you are open to trying something different, however, or you have previously had an interest in religion or spirituality, you might want to look at what prayer has to offer.

If you are angry with God, and question how a loving or omnipotent God could arbitrarily deprive you of your beloved child, you might not be open to re-examining your feelings or reinterpreting your concept of God. Such an attitude is not only understandable; it remains the dominant attitude of a large percentage of bereaved parents. Yet, some people say: "It's okay to be angry with God; He's big enough to handle it."

Perhaps the strongest case for redefining God and making a reinvented God work for you is presented by Rabbi Harold Kushner in "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." Even if you read this book before your child died, a re-reading in view of your current realities might cast a different light on what you can derive from it.

On the other hand, examination of specific issues in light of traditional Jewish thinking may open to you an approach to life that you may not have seriously considered before; or it may reinforce long-held beliefs. The definitive presentation from the Orthodox perspective continues to be "The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning" by Rabbi Maurice Lamm.

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Mort Schrag is involved in parent bereavement in Los Angeles.