The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Today, I received the sad news that one of my Mitzvah clients lost her grandfather.  Only six short weeks ago, he was diagnosed with leukemia.  Now his family faces their grief, coupled with the complications that arise from planning a religious celebration shortly after a monumental loss.

There’s no easy way to lose someone you love.  If  it happens suddenly, there’s shock and disbelief, and no time to say goodbye.  If the loss is due to an illness, there’s the pain of watching a loved one suffer, hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

When I lost my father to cancer nearly 14 years ago, it was the worst of both scenarios.  He died only two and half weeks after his diagnosis.  We barely had time to wrap our minds around the illness before he was gone.  That summer, I exercised my demons by organizing a charity golf tournament in his memory to benefit cancer research which ultimately led to my career in event planning. My father would have said “the wind from one door closing opens another”. In hindsight, I can say that it was probably best for him to go fast and for us to try to remember him in better days.  I still miss him every day. Hearing my clients struggle with their own grief brings mine back again, only I was not faced with a family celebration five weeks later.

A family decision to celebrate a joyous occasion after a devastating loss is never made lightly.  A lot depends on the level of religious observance.  The first and right course of action my clients took was to speak with their Rabbi who told them, basically, that the show must go on. Of course, different Rabbis (and planners) may offer different advice about the right way to show respect.  Chabbad says:

For those who mourn parents, the sheloshim (30 day) period requires a more intense restraint from joy than the remaining months of the year. For example, the bereaved are permitted to attend a Bar Mitzvah party (all may obviously attend the synagogue service) during sheloshim (after shiva) together so long as they avoid listening to the instrumental music and participating in the dinner together with the celebrants. After sheloshim, and for the balance of the year, however, they may participate fully in the dinner if the Bar Mitzvah lad speaks on some Torah subject, making the celebration a truly religious function.

As my mother so eloquently and succinctly puts it, “The living go on living”.  Death is part of life and teaching that important lesson to the next generation is part of our job as parents and role models.