Boulders of Grief

Boulders of Grief

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

In recent weeks, our congregational family and community have sat on the mourner’s bench too often. I can’t tell you why, because there is no answer that would ever satisfy us. But I can tell you how we can mourn and then how to honor the memories of those whom we remember. Many of you told me that my Yizkor memorial message from this past Yom Kippur helped you, and that you read it every day. Here is an excerpt, which was at the heart of the message I hoped would reach you and touch you. May these words be the beginning of more healing as we collect ourselves and focus together on the future.

“The heavy feeling (of grief) we bear can sometimes feel like a boulder we carry around with us everywhere we go. The size and weight of it is unique to each of us; it’s equal to the degree of sadness and ‘gray-ness’ we feel on any given day. That boulder wakes up with us in the morning. We can barely get out of bed because of its size and weight. It comes with us wherever we go and feels like an anchor. It feels impossible get up to do the simplest task. In social settings, the boulder fills the seat where a friend sits next to us to keep us company. No one else sees the boulder, but it’s there. Only we can see it and feel it. Only we can despise it.

Then something changes. Time wears down the boulder like a natural process. Time doesn’t make the boulder softer, but time can make it smaller. Some days begin to feel better than other days. We smile more easily. We laugh a little more deeply. The heavy boulder of grief crumbles and becomes easier to carry. If we let it happen, it crumbles into pieces.

What then? What do we do with all those pieces of that boulder that were so real to us? We can’t sweep up the pieces as if our grief was just some mess we had to clean up. I believe that pieces of the boulder are the small stones we carry with us to the cemetery and place on the grave of our loved ones. The weight of the stones in our hands is transferred to the earth. The earth bears its weight now. Every time we lay a stone on the grave, the heaviness of our grief is lifted off of us a little more. 

I also believe that the broken pieces are our memories. Memories help us orient to our changed environment. Memories help us remember what our loved ones meant to us; but, also, just as important, memories help us remember what we meant to them. When morning comes, let’s get out of bed a little easier. Let’s leave the house and make our way to work and events. And, when friends and family sit next to us, let’s feel their smile and laughter, again.

Henry Van Dyke wrote:
Time is too slow for those who wait
Too swift for those who fear
Too long for those who grieve
Too short for those who rejoice
But for those who love,
Time is not.

The poet urges us to love, because for those who love, time is eternity.  As long as we love those who are gone, it won’t be the moment of their death that we recall, but rather, for all time, the memories we cherish. They are the moments that made us who we were, together. Their death cannot deprive us of what they helped us become in their lifetime; and what we must now continue to become in ours.

May this Shabbat be a day of rest in which we find ways to express gratitude for the lives that were taken and for all that remains so present in our hearts.


Boulders of Grief 3