Grieving During the High Holidays

By Julie Sondhelm, Jewish Family Services Clinical Director

The holidays are approaching, and we all experience different emotions related to this time- excitement, spiritual renewal, connection, but also some may feel stress, loneliness, even sadness depending upon individual circumstances. 
For those who are mourning the loss of a loved one - be it recent or years ago - the holidays, as with other transition times, can evoke complicated feelings. Some may think of happy times from the past, some may worry how they will cope, some may reach out for support around them, and others retreat. There is no one path through bereavement and healing, and the journey can have unanticipated setbacks or leaps of growth along the way. At a time when the Jewish world turns to introspection and connection to faith and family, those mourning a loss may feel disconnected to their community just when it is needed the most.
Judaism has many practices to envelop those who are mourning in the community, both early on and throughout the years. We all are aware of the power of our shiva rituals to sustain and support. At the conclusion of the shiva period, some communities assist the mourners with releasing during that time by accompanying them on a walk - literally “getting up from the shiva.” This practice gently guides the mourner back into daily life with the support of others. 
Kever Avot (anscestors graves) is another common practice. It involves visiting the graves of loved ones during the High Holidays. This practical action can help to connect to not only the loved one that is deceased, but to the themes of the season- renewal, reflection, and growth. Jewish practice recognizes the cyclical nature of the grieving process by offering opportunities to gather through the years after a loss, such as annual yizkor services and lighting a candle in remembrance on the anniversary of the passing. 
COVID has been a challenging time for so many reasons, including the interruption of our mourning rituals. Many of us have gone through burials and mourning periods without the usual communal supports. As we step forward together now, we as a community look for creative ways to gather and support each other, including those who have experienced a loss at any point. 
We invite you to join us for a walk for remembrance and renewal on Oct. 3. Take a step alongside others who are in this journey to hope and healing together.
Contact Julie Sondhelm at for information on Hope and Healing, the Jewish community grief support group.


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