Caring for Yourself When Grieving

HoldingHandsGrief can be an all-encompassing emotion, and Jewish funerals often take place within a relatively short time after a death occurs, meaning the first few days after a loss can go by in a blur. Add to that the possible additional stresses of travel, family interactions, and sometimes a significant amount of time recently spent supporting someone with a lingering illness, and it is no wonder that mourners sometimes suffer serious illness themselves.

Jewish law requires us to take care of ourselves, even at difficult times, and we have put together some reminders that we hope will keep you and your loved ones healthy and safe. If you are helping a friend or extended family during the time of a funeral, please make sure they do the following:

  • Drink water. Dehydration from crying, or simply not drinking on a normal schedule, can lead to a host of physical ailments even for people who are otherwise healthy. For people with blood pressure, heart or other health problems it can be dangerous.
  • Remember to eat. If you feel you have little appetite, have small meals or healthy snacks. And don’t over-do it with the caffeine. Grieving, planning and attending a funeral, and sitting shiva can be surprisingly physically taxing. From avoiding headaches to ensuring blood sugar stays level, keeping your body fueled is imperative to staying well.
  • Try to rest. Emotions can make it hard to sleep and sometimes, after a death, adrenaline kicks in. But the chemicals your body releases when sleep-deprived take a toll. Find ways to pause for a few moments of quiet or down-time. Delegate shiva set-up to someone else. Feel free to define times when you are receiving people, and times which are set aside for quiet family time to eat meals, or take naps. If you have people in your home for shiva and it starts to get overwhelming, you are completely within your rights to excuse yourself for a little while. Nobody will judge you. You are not hosting, you are sitting shiva.

Remember mourning is a process which takes a different amount of time for each person. As you grieve, please keep in mind we have several resources at Levinson’s to help you along the way. From books to lectures to bereavement groups, our Aftercare resources are always available to you.

 

2013 Bereavement Lecture in Howard County

On Sunday, October 20, 2013, Levinson’s hosted our annual bereavement lecture in Howard County. With about 100 people in attendance from the Columbia, Rockville, Bethesda and Washington, DC areas, this lecture allows us to provide outreach and aftercare services to the families we serve in those neighborhoods. The lecture is also a way of providing ongoing training to the social workers and caregivers who live in these communities.

Presenter J. Shep Jeffreys spoke about “Helping Grieving People: When Tears Are Not Enough”. J. Shep Jeffreys, Ed.D., F.T. is a licensed psychologist with a specialty in the treatment of grief related problems. He is a Fellow in Thanatology (ADEC). In addition to his practice at the Family Center in Columbia, he is an Assistant Professor in Psychiatry at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he presents seminars on loss and grief to psychiatric residents. He is Affiliate Assistant Professor of Pastoral Counseling at Loyola University Maryland, teaching Loss and Bereavement.

Dr. Jeffreys is author of Helping Grieving People: When Tears Are Not Enough: A Handbook for Care Providers, 2nd Edition, and of Coping with Workplace Grief: Dealing with Loss, Trauma and Change, Revised Edition. His column “Grief Psychologist’s Corner” has been a regular feature in Living With Loss magazine. A speaker and storyteller, he consults with and provides training programs for religious, medical, and educational institutions as well as business organizations. For twelve years he worked with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., as a trainer and grief/loss workshop leader in the United States and abroad, and he has served as consulting psychologist for The Johns Hopkins AIDS Service. Dr. Jeffreys is a member of and consultant to Bereaved Parents USA, Howard County (MD) Chapter.

Feedback after the lecture was that Dr. Jeffreys was very informative, a great speaker and people really got a lot out of the morning. All in all, it was an experience that was very helpful to the attendees.

If you are interested in the lectures either at the Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home (usually every Spring), please check in with us in February. If you would like to know more about upcoming Howard County lectures, please check in with us next summer.

You can always contact us with any questions.

 

This event was co-sponsored by Jewish Community Services (An agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore) and The Jewish Federation of Howard County.

Let’s Talk About Death?

Have you ever talked to your friends or family about death? Do you know what your loved ones’ wishes are for long-term care? Have you told them what your wishes are? What does it mean to decide to send a family member to a nursing home, hospice facility or receive hospice care at home? Is your family prepared in case someone dies suddenly? What are your wishes regarding a funeral, and does your family know what they are?

The separation many of us have from death or those who are dying – due to extended life expectancy and the rise of long-term care facilities – means that this subject is rarely discussed and has almost become taboo. This does a disservice to those who are dying and those who are struggling to cope with the loss or imminent loss of a loved one. Several interesting communities and resources have recently stepped in to fill that gap.

Now you can gather a group of friends or family to discuss “Death Over Dinner“, sending out a resource for people to read in advance and then gathering to talk about your reactions or thoughts. They point out on their homepage that “How we want to die – represents the most important and costly conversation America isn’t having.” Bloomberg recently highlighted these dinners in an article which looks into some participants’ experiences. Or you can attend a “Death Cafe” which gathers people together over cake and coffee (or tea) to share their thoughts and fears about death. Back in March, NPR interviewed the man who started them, and you can read that interview here.

If you have any questions about Jewish funerals or the mourning process, funeral options available, or would like information about resources in the community, please do not hesitate to let us know.

How long do we sit shiva? Is one day okay? Three?

We’re going to start this answer out by saying we strongly recommend you talk to a rabbi about this issue.

Shiva technically means “seven” and by definition lasts for seven Jewish calendar days starting immediately after the interment (burial). There are many important reasons for this first period of official mourning, but due to various considerations such as family needing to return to their homes in other cities or changes in religious observance, many families sit shiva for fewer than seven days. The length of this observance is now often determined by each family based on their needs.

You can find more extensive details about this and other Jewish funeral practices on our Jewish Resources page. We also have a helpful page on how to set up a shiva house.

Should Children Attend Funerals?

A frequent question is whether it is appropriate for young children to attend the funeral. Our answer is generally that this is something best determined by the parent, and really depends upon an individual child’s personality. This approach has changed significantly from a few decades ago – the tradition of excluding children from funerals or mourning rituals is no longer understood as best for children. The common approach these days is if a child is old enough to have some understanding of the concept of death, it is important and far less traumatic for them to attend (unless they really do not want to).

At Sol Levinson & Bros. we try to make sure there are options for families who want to include children in the funeral service. First, you can take your children on a virtual tour of our building, showing them the chapel and family room ahead of time so their surroundings are less intimidating when they arrive for the service.

For families with very young children, our Family Rooms have overhead speakers so if a parent or caregiver needs to step out with a child in the middle of a service they are able to continue to listen. In our bereavement library we have workbooks for children to express their emotions through drawing or other activities, as they often do not have the words to express the complex emotions they are feeling and they have not yet developed the coping mechanisms necessary to focus on the appropriate memories of a loved one. Some families choose to place photographs, drawings, letters or cards into the casket and this is an opportunity to allow children to participate.

We also have resources in the library for how to talk about death with children. The words we as adults sometimes want to use to soften the blow are not always the best ones. There is a story used as a lesson to be careful of what to say when speaking to children. As the story goes, a child was told that his grandfather’s body was at the funeral home. As grownups, we understand what this means, however the child became distraught and nobody could figure out why. They finally realized that he thought this meant his grandfather no longer had a head and it was just the rest of his body that was going to be buried. Children have no choice but to be very literal if our words are the only input they have to inform them about a new experience. Here is an article that shares some useful information on how to speak to children about death.

For a little more reading, here is a New York Times article on the changing approach to letting children share in grief.

 

 

Bereavement Lecture Highlighted on Shalom USA Radio

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt

This Sunday, May 5 at 8:30am, tune in to Shalom USA Radio on 1300 AM, WJFK (in Baltimore), to hear one of our lecture speakers, Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, MD, and Jewish Community Services representative Janet Kurland, LCSW-C, discuss the upcoming lecture.

Details about this year’s lecture can be found on our website’s Aftercare services page or by going directly to the flyer.

Irvin B. Levinson Memorial Lecture Series: May 8, 2013

LectureSeriesSlideAt Sol Levinson & Bros. we believe that our service to the community does not end with the funeral. Since 1998, in memory of Irvin B. Levinson, we’ve hosted an annual lecture series in his honor. Levinson’s, in collaboration with Jewish Community Services, sponsors both national and local experts in the field of death, dying and bereavement. This event is open to the public and provides ongoing support and resources to the community.

This year, the lecture is on Wednesday, May 8 from 6-9:15pm. Please see the flyer for full details, but we are thrilled to have Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D. speaking on the topic “NOTHING WAS THE SAME: GRIEF AND LOSS” and Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt discussing “LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH: LESSONS FOR LIVING”.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.