"Grief and pain are dreadful, and to live free from them is to be truly blessed. But the truth is, we usually have no choice when it comes to loss. Eventually, it visits every one of us. And there is no magic or blessing that is found in this curse. There is no cosmic trick. But there is a different approach to facing our suffering one that can lead not only to respite and relief from our pain and anguish, but also to an unexpected sort of wholeness." These wise words come to us from Matthew Gewirtz, the Senior Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. He begins this exploration of the gifts of grief with the stories of two women who experienced dreadful tragedies and were stripped down to the core by their pain, leaving them open and vulnerable.
Ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1997, the author winces at the ways many religious leaders have tried to tell those suffering a loss that it was brought on by some sin they committed. Equally dismaying to him is the idea that bad things happen to good people as a test or as a means of purifying someone.
Instead Gewirtz posits the soul as our essence, wisdom, ethical and moral compass in times of trouble. It gives us the capacity to handle pain and face life's excruciating blows. The process of being transformed by our suffering begins when we give up all attempts to put on our armor and plow through it. Instead we can surrender to our pain and loss, express our anger, acknowledge our weakness, and open to God and others. We can also reach out to our loved ones and friends for support and encouragement during our suffering. This journey includes a fresh encounter with faith as comprised of belief, doubt, and action. Gewirtz concludes:
"Pain and loss break us down and in so doing give us a powerful chance to remake ourselves. The lessons we can learn in our grief about the value of vulnerability, openness, awareness, connection, faith, and humility can be taken with us and used for the rest of our lives. They place us in the center of life, in touch with our inner strength, and in profound relationship with our loved ones, our communities, and our faith."