If I Could Do the Year Again…

It was a beautiful fall morning, that Friday of my brother’s petirah. Sunny with a cool nip in the air. The trees were covered in leaves, some colored and some still green, with only a smattering of crunchy leaves covering the ground. But inside the house, no one was aware of the beauty outdoors. We were all sitting with my brother, watching him as if in a trance, as he fought for his last breaths. After his petirah, our house filled up with family, who, like us, walked around in a daze. But our friends noticed something remarkable. By late morning, when my brother had already been niftar, the trees had shed all their leaves. The leaves were our tears and the empty branches were the gaping hole in our hearts.
The trees taught me that it’s okay to cry. It is okay to sit in the pain and to really feel it. But after experiencing so much sickness and death in my immediate family, I stopped feeling. Lucky trees that they can shed all their tears. But my tears dried up. I took my pain, put it into a box and closed it up tightly. There was always some pain that bubbled its way out, spilling into my stomach and heart. But it was so easy to keep myself busy and run faster and faster from the pain.
For me the year of aveilus for my parents was very hard. I was angry. I didn’t want to keep all these halachos. I was in pain; I was grieving. Listening to music or going to a function wasn’t going to make me forget. Of course, I kept the halachos, but only what I absolutely had to. Looking back, I realize how I hurt myself. I didn’t gain what I could have from the year(s) of aveilus. Hashem gave me this time to really feel and fully experience the sadness of my losses – an important step in the healing process. I think that any pain I have today would be less intense if had taken proper advantage of that opportunity.
I like to run. I like to pretend that everything is fine. But I hope that I learned enough to recognize how important the year of aveilus is. Not only is it beneficial for the aveil, but it benefits the niftar as well. And so I look back and think, “If I could redo that year of aveilus, how would I do it differently?”
I think I would really let myself feel the pain. Each time I would be unable to go to a chasunah or would feel a desperate need for new clothing that I couldn’t buy, I would sit and experience the pain. Cry it out. I would focus in and realize: I am keeping these halachos because my mother/father died, and I am so sad. I think I would shoo the guilt away if it would tell me that I can’t take off work, or I must make the entire Shabbos from scratch. Instead of denying my grief, I would recognize that during this year there is no such thing as too much crying: I can cry it out, talk it out, sit in it, feel it.
I would try to have a better understanding of what the neshamah is going through and recognize that my mourning benefits the neshamah of the niftar. This in itself would be a nechamah, since I am happy to do anything for my parents/siblings.
The pain will always be here. But I think that if I had allowed myself to mourn properly, at the end of each year of aveilus, I would have felt more ready to carry on with life – without so much heaviness left inside of me.
This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here, with permission.

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