Thursday, August 8, 2013

Religion in the Time of Death

I am Jewish, but haven't been very "religious" in years. When I was young, I remember loving going to services on Friday nights because my mom let me wear my faux fur coat, frilly socks, and even some lipstick. I went to Hebrew school up through high school, attended a Jewish sleep away camp every summer, was very involved in youth group, and even got a generous scholarship from USC called the Jewish Leadership Scholarship. I have always loved my religion, have never been ashamed of it, but up until recently I haven't put much thought into the role it plays in my life now that I'm a young adult.

When my parents were visiting me two days ago, my mom mentioned that Judaism has very specific rituals for people to follow throughout the first year of mourning. The first year? Although I didn't ask her to elaborate at the time, this stuck in my brain. Everyone respects that this is going to take time, but after less than three months I already feel pressure to start moving on. Knowing my religion acknowledges that I need specific guidance and support for a whole year after a death provided some relief. 

Last night I started researching the guidelines Judaism lays out for people in mourning. The thing I latched onto the most is that people in mourning are instructed to display various outward signs of their grief to reflect how different they feel inside. Wow.

I was talking to a friend the other day about how hard it is to feel so torn to pieces on the inside, but look so normal on the outside. I almost wish I had an illness, broken bone, scar, something so it was more obvious that I am not ok. If this were something physical, people could actually watch as I heal and know by looking at me that I'm still recovering. It's not like I want any of these physical maladies to elicit sympathy from others, I just want them to know that I'm not the same. I'm not normal. I'm not entirely myself

The excerpt from the website that I pasted at the top of this post was my favorite ritual I read about. This part: "This ripping is a concrete expression of heartbreak. It allows mourners to physically express what words cannot," was exactly what I needed to hear. It spoke directly to the struggle I was explaining to my friend. How can my body be so intact when my heart feels completely broken? The ripped clothing above the heart is a level of symbolism that is both beautiful and profound. Something tangible that represents how the invisible internal pain feels. 

Blake and I discussed religion a lot. Although he was Catholic and I am Jewish, after several long discussions Blake and I came to the conclusion that we both believed in the same thing. We both believed religion shouldn't be about who your savior is or what happens to you after you die.  It should be about shaping you into a moral person and providing comfort when you feel lost. We both agreed that even though our religions were different, we both wanted the same things from our faith: guidance, comfort, forgiveness, compassion, and understanding.

Although I'm no longer that little girl in faux fur and red lipstick in temple every Friday night (...which would probably not be the best look for me now, unfortunately), through my religion I can still seek and find all of those things. For me, it's not about going through all of my clothes and ripping them above my heart, but the idea that I could. My religion understands that I'm not ok even though I may look fine and that this is incredibly frustrating. By having specific rituals to address this discrepancy, it helps me understand this is a normal struggle.

Whether it's religion I need or just the reminder that what I'm feeling is normal, it doesn't make a difference. I hope people understand that although I look the same, I'm still healing. A broken heart might not be visible, but it's a pain just the same as any other. 

**I really don't know the rules about citation on blogs, so just in case I'm going to put a link to the website I got the quote from: **


  1. I have soo much to say but have yet to formulate my thoughts into for now I just want to say thank you. Thank you for being so strong. I know it's been years since we've spoken and you probably would never have guessed I would have stumbled upon this, but you are an inspiration:) So like I said: THANK YOU

    1. I'm so happy that my words meant something to you! Whenever you can formulate your thoughts into words, I'd love to talk to you about whatever is on your mind :). Thank YOU so much for supporting me and letting me know you care.