A reader, someone I do not know personally, contacted me and asked me to write about this subject. I agreed because I felt so deeply for her. However, truth be told I’m not even certain how to begin. The article needs to begin with one huge “G-d forbid” that you can imagine after every sentence. The subject matter is so emotionally charged that it is difficult for me to put words on paper. I must be clear that I am not an expert in grieving and to date have had only one client dealing with the death of a close loved one and it was her husband. Having said that, I’m doing my best here to provide resources and some sense of framework for the ultimate loss—that of losing a child.
As the mother of five children there is no way for me to write objectively about this subject and so I’m not even going to try. While researching for this article I cried more in a few days than in the past several months combined. The loss of a child is against the grains of nature. We expect that at some point those older than us will pass away. Although not easy to deal with, we know that the natural order of things is for grandparents and then parents to pass. Maybe even having to deal with a same-aged spouse passing is not out of the realm of possibility. However there could be nothing that would prepare a parent to lose a child. It seems unjust, unfathomable, something that cannot be recovered from. And yet, on a daily basis, parents lose their children for any number of reasons.
In the world of psychology, the works of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are the gold-standard for grief and the grieving process. She identifies five stages of grief that a person goes through upon losing a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The pace at which someone works through these stages is highly individualized and depends upon many factors. A wonderful resource for many issues, but specifically grieving issues, is www.helpguide.org. You can find the grief section under mental health. Specifically when dealing with the loss of a child, www.compassionatefriends.org is a great resource. In addition, there are support groups that deal with specific types of grief such as loss of a child, a spouse, etc. Regardless, the loss of a child is shocking and as a therapist I highly recommend finding consistent, professional support with a therapist or support group while moving through the grieving process. If I had to imagine, G-d forbid, the loss of a child, I imagine this pain will never go away. However I do feel that with the proper support and with time, parents can move towards functioning, growth and daily life. (I have not touched on the subject matter of what a child’s passing means for siblings. In cases where the child who passed has siblings, therapy for those siblings is absolutely essential and should begin immediately after the death—or even before if it is a matter of illness.)
Then, of course, is the Torah perspective and the context of our spiritual beliefs. So many of our great Torah leaders throughout history—David HaMelech lost three sons and a daughter, Rabbi Yochanan—the author of the Talmud Yirushalmi—lost ten sons, Aaron HaCohen lost his sons Nadav and Avihu. The questions are countless: How can a parent reconcile the loss of a child in the eyes of G-d? Is there sense to be made of it or is it simply beyond our human capabilities to understand? How could we possibly know the depths of Universal calculations taking into consideration the traveling of souls together in and out of lives over the course of human history? Who’s tikkune (soul correction) is it anyway—the child’s or the parents? There is just so much we can never know and in being unable to know the truth of it all it leaves us with simply one thing to hold onto: bitachon in HaShem, certainty in G-d’s wisdom. No, this is not necessarily comforting. No, this is by no means easy. But I have read countless stories in researching for this article that recount tzadikim and others who were born into this world for only a short period of time simply to make a quick and/or final correction—either for their own soul or for another’s. The one story that resonates so loudly in my brain as I write this is the recent murder of a Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his two sons, Aryeh and Gavriel, in Toulouse, France. The Rabbi’s wife, Chava Sandler, issued a statement to the world upon her losses that rocked me to my core, and demonstrated to me what true righteousness means—something I do not think I really understood before. In the face of her darkest hour, she wrote these words:
“My heart is broken. I am unable to speak. There are no ways for me to be able to express the great and all-consuming pain resulting from the murder of my dear husband Rabbi Jonathan and our sons, Aryeh and Gavriel, and of Miriam Monsonego, daughter of the dedicated principal of Ozar Hatorah and his wife, Rabbi Yaakov and Mrs. Monsonego. May no one ever have to endure such pain and suffering . . .
. . . I don’t know how I and my husband’s parents and sister will find the consolation and strength to carry on, but I know that the ways of G-d are good, and He will reveal the path and give us the strength to continue. I know that their holy souls will remain with us forever, and I know that very soon the time will come when we will be together again with the coming of Moshiach . . .
. . . I wholeheartedly believe in the words of the verse: “The L-ord has given, and the L-ord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the L-ord.” I thank the Almighty for the privilege, short though it was, of raising my children together with my husband. Now the Almighty wants them back with Him. To all those who wish to bring consolation to our family and contentment to the souls of the departed: Let’s continue their lives on this Earth. Parents, please kiss your children. Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and with love of their fellow man. Please increase your study of Torah, whether on your own or with your family and friends. Help others who may find study difficult to achieve alone. Please bring more light into the world by kindling the Sabbath candles this and every Friday night. (Please do so a bit earlier than the published times as a way to add holiness to our world.) . . .
. . . The spirit of the Jewish people can never be extinguished; its connection with Torah and its commandments can never be destroyed. May it be G-d’s will that from this moment on, we will all only know happiness. . .”
I remember reading her words and thinking how far I still have to go to reach this level of spiritual greatness—that she moves ever closer to G-d in times when most would be angry, destroyed, and turn away. And so, it is from this place that I address the reader who asked me to write about this subject of losing a child.
All of the tzadikim that I mentioned above—David HaMelech, Rabbi Yochanan, Aaron HaCohen—dealt with their pain and anguish of losing children in the same way: They cleaved to God. Aaron HaCohen is the perfect example: After he lost his sons he ran to Ohel Moed to complain before HaShem for taking his children. When he arrived at Ohel Moed he was met by his brother Moshe coming out of Ohel Moed. The words Moshe uttered to Aaron in that moment capture the only answer: “Bikrovai Akadesh v’al p’nai kol ha’am ekaved”, meaning “You will be sanctified by those who are nearest Me thus I will be honored before the entire people.” Aaron was silent—he realized the words of HaShem were coming through Moshe and the only way to deal with his grief was to accept G-d’s will even though it cannot be understood. Your pain is unimaginable. I wish I had some magic words to soothe you and to help carry your loss. I hope that you are well supported by family and friends and greater community. Please use any resources available to you to support you in your healing and grieving. You, and your child, are unquestionably loved. May you find the strength within, in the name of your lost child, to make this world a better place by sharing your uniqueness and fulfilling your purpose. May you find comfort in choosing to cling to HaShem’s greater plan and trust that, although tragic and monumental, your personal experience is ultimately meant to reveal Light. I think it is safe to say, on behalf of mothers and parents everywhere, that we send you so much love and may blessings surround you always.Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and educator with a private practice in Beverly Hills, California. Mia is licensed in both California and Illinois and she can be reached through her website at www.bhcounselingcenter.com or followed on Twitter @MiaAdlerOzair.