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The Spiritual Journey Beyond Grief

Authored by Maurice Lamm

Publication Year: 2004

For most of us, mourning is something to be endured. We are often merely passive spectators of our own pain, and we see our grief period as a grim mountain that we must climb over. But Maurice Lamm tells us it can be much more. Bereavement, he says, can often be an enriching experience, even as it is a sorrowful and often tragic one. Our faith in a higher power can move us to not only live through the present but also to stride into the future with renewed energy and a revitalized outlook on life. In this, his sequel to the best-selling The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning (over 350,000 copies sold), Rabbi Lamm helps mourners not just get through their grief, but also grow through it. He gently steers mourners on the path that allows their sorrow to teach them important lessons about life. And he shows consolers how to listen and speak with their hearts so that they can provide real comfort to others. His marvelous insights on the days of shiva, the year of kaddish, and the lovingkindness of others reveal the richness and true purpose of Jewish mourning rituals and customs. They prepare us to receive consolation and ready us for the journey that will take us beyond grief. His "Words for a Loss When at a Loss for Words" is a treasury of readings for finding and giving comfort by transforming the spiritual ideas of an ancient faith into contemporary language. Here there are stories and fables that illuminate our complicated lives, meditations from the depths of human experience, and a gallery of unforgettable images that speak to our souls during times of loss. Rabbi Lamm's words will help all who walk the path of grief to find their way to consolation--and then beyond, to an appreciation of the blessings and opportunities that present themselves to us when we confront loss. And they can even take us further, to discover the celebrated Jewish art--of wringing blessing out of tragedy.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society

Title Page/Copyright/Dedication

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

What the contribution of ideas does for inspiration, the contribution of talent from editors, family members, and colleagues does for getting just the right words on paper. Sometimes the contributing is done sparingly, but not in this case, not for Consolation. Everyone has been most generous with their time, knowledge, and skills. ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

But now, older and I hope wiser, I understand much better the subtleties of our mourning laws and rituals and the comfort they can bring. I also now know the difference between comforting and consoling, and I have come to a disturbing realization: I have not satisfactorily consoled a single mourner during my entire rabbinic career. ...


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pp. 1-2

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Chapter 1: The Night Raiders

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pp. 3-16

Night falls. Suffocating, you confront the blanket of darkness and the thick silence with stunned disbelief. Is this happening to me? Is this what it always feels like? The unanswered questions hang. Awareness begins to emerge and loneliness sinks deeper into the subvaults of your soul. The golden chain of human lineage is severed and swings wildly before your eyes.b...

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Chapter 2: The Wounds They Inflict

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pp. 17-30

Our own life temporarily dies. Our suffering is unlike any other, not only because we feel bereft of a loss that will never ever be recouped but also because we are broken up, falling apart, because the loss has opened a black hole in our own life. To fully grasp the depth of this grief, we need to understand a fundamental ...

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Chapter 3: Insights Essential to Healing

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pp. 31-40

Mourning is not grief but rather the way out of grief. Jewish tradition has molded many mourning procedures specifically to suit human sensitivities so that we can slowly and successfully adapt to a universe that is permanently changed. The mourner’s new world is now shrunken, bereft of a beloved ...


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pp. 41-42

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Chapter 4: Shiva: The Habitat of Healing

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pp. 43-60

It follows the course of suffering: It does not dismiss suffering with preachments of God’s goodness nor cite easy assurances of desirable outcomes; it confronts rather than evades the pain of separation. In addition, it provides a profound though indirect healing regimen that leads us out of the entanglements of grief to a full acceptance of our loss and takes us even further, empowering ...

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Chapter 5: The Conflicting Agenda of Healing

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pp. 61-80

That is why Judaism provides the time and the space for contradictory approaches to healing from mourning. For example, it nurtures our profound need both for silence and for storytelling, both for solitude and for shared grieving. All approaches to healing reside comfortably in the habitat for healing and, indeed, not only during shiva but sometimes also extending into the ...

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Chapter 6: The Healing Rituals

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pp. 81-102

Ritual is a superb emotional stabilizer for individuals. It is a remarkable unifier of people and of communities that may be separated by great distances. And ritual, more than any other behavior, transmits the values of one generation to another, because its shared language and meaning transcend time and place. ...

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Chapter 7: Man Comforts; God Consoles

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pp. 103-116

First, it establishes an atmosphere of healing for mourners, such as Habitat Shiva, in which the healing process is encouraged to grow. Second, it provides rituals, such as the recitation of Kaddish, which course silently through the mind and heart and infuse healthy spiritual attitudes. Third, it promotes direct comfort by a verbal tonic of consolation ...

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Chapter 8: Unconventional Truths of Mourning

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pp. 117-136

This did not open the doors to random, personal interpretation of the law; rather it said this: Mourners suffer deep anguish and trauma; helping them recover often requires hands-off gentleness as well as certain counterintuitive insights to relieve the human burden. As we have seen, Jewish bereavement practices embrace contradictory ...


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pp. 137-138

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Chapter 9: A Cosmic Specialness

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pp. 139-150

... pills for tears. In this geography, we need to understand why such and such is happening. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” Mourning is a litany of “whys.” On this level, we deal with the “real” world of cause and effect, of seeking instantaneous resolutions to complicated problems, of doing ...

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Chapter 10: The Promise of Jewish Spirituality

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pp. 151-160

... whose lives have been shattered, disoriented, and vacuumed of all meaning—need to adapt to a newly arranged environment. Clearly, however, mourners need much more, not in terms of strategic behavioral and attitudinal maneuvers but in spiritual terms. Belief in one God implies a unified universe, coherence in nature and ...

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Chapter 11: The World Beyond the Grave

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pp. 161-186

... there anything at all beyond the grave? We ask ourselves this question, but only in a whisper. Heaven is not a public agenda item; dealing with ultimately unknowable matters makes even the most spiritual mourners uneasy. But it is a subtext, especially to mourners; we do think about this question, and we know that our forebears thought about it ...


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pp. 187-188

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Chapter 12: Searching for a Usable Future

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pp. 189-210

... experience of mourning is not the same for everyone. Some people go through the process and emerge strengthened and renewed. But in the majority of cases the normal outcome of mourning is not positive. In fact, most of us, when we mourn, do not consider outcomes at all, perhaps because instinctively we feel that death is simply a natural part of life and that our grief will spontaneously resolve itself. ...

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Chapter 13: Striving for an Exceptional Future

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pp. 211-234

When we mourn we are living in a semiconscious miasma of forgetting, forgiving, and self-forgiving, trying to fill the sudden crater in our brain. We seek permission from within to separate from the deceased but are conscious of our own ambivalence—even as we aggressively strive to return to life with strength, we tenaciously hold on to the deceased who once was so ...

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Chapter 14: “You Have Transformed My Mourning into Dancing”

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pp. 235-256

We can experience this repentance in two ways: First, we might harbor regrets about our relationship with the deceased—slights, angers, and lapses of decent conversation as well as our not having paid enough attention, not having given him or her well-deserved satisfaction, and not having been considerate—lapses that we commit unthinkingly in ...

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Words for a Loss, When at a Loss for Words

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pp. 257-318

To resume living a quality life, mourners are told by Jewish tradition to be “mekabel tanchumim” (a receiver of comfort)—that is, to receive and not resist the comforting words of visitors, the suggestions of well-meaning people who come bearing compassion and understanding and who fervently commiserate with the grieving. Jewish ethicists call these comforting ...


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pp. 319-334


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pp. 335-342

E-ISBN-13: 9780827609587
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827608153

Publication Year: 2004