By Rabbinic Pastor Sandra Wortzel –
I often sit and watch in humble joy the flurry of tiny hummingbirds approaching the feeders and flowers on my patio…they being a constant source of endless sweetness…and I imagine a life of going from sweetness to sweetness, from flower to flower…
How simple, how refreshing a life, this must be…
And what would it be like if we humans could do the same?
For just a moment imagine a hummingbird’s extraordinary existence…
Open the lens of your mind’s eye – seeing your life as a series of snapshots – short excerpts of memory – blips from your past –
Reflecting a journey from sweetness to sweetness…from cherished moments to treasured memories, many of which you may have shared with your loved one – and perhaps there are glimpses of shadowy spots from difficult and challenging times…and possibly, very possibly, you can also envision hints and flickers of the legacy your loved leaves for the future…
We too, can be like the hummingbird…tasting the sweetness of our lives, through image and memory, hope and longing.
When the feeder is empty or the flowers have gone to seed, the hummingbird seeks its nectar elsewhere.
When a loved one dies, it may feel like the wellspring of love, of caring, of sharing, which sustained our relationship has completely dried up, vanished into thin air, along with the essence of who they were in the world, who they were to us.
It is into this void we too must go, surrendering to what we have known.
Into this mysterious territory we must venture…
a terrain that on any given day may feel and look – barren or bleak, foggy or lonely, confusing or scary, wistful or dreamlike…and once there, with the support of family, friends, counselors, and clergy – we can attempt to begin anew, learning to grow from our loss, learning to trust…
To trust that this will not always be the landscape we traverse, that there is a path that will lead us once again from the forsaken wintery grief-scape of browns and grays, of silence and doubt, to an earthy, fertile, emergent-scape – where we search and discover sustenance for our hearts, our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.
If we dare to imagine – we can picture this fragile yet promising landscape…filling with the first green shoots of spring, the sweet scent of budding new life, the crisp high trill of spring songbirds…
and an inner landscape, the very landscape of your own heart, your home, your life…filling once again…slowly, tentatively with companionship, support, and in time – with joy…
Carried on the wings of those who have gone before us, this vision of hope also lies in the outstretched hands and caring eyes of those around us, living and real, who understand the nature of grief, and who gently water our parched spirits with their love and their patience.
For those who are specifically supporting a bereaved family member or friend: In the words of Jeff Foster and Matt Licata:
“When you sit with a friend in pain, when their world no longer makes sense; when confusion rages and no rest is to be found…Just for a moment,
will you resist the temptation to make things better, to reassure them,
to provide answers, even to heal them?
Will you offer your stillness, your listening, your presence, and the warmth of your immediacy?
Will you hold them in your heart with the same tenderness of a mother holding her little one?
Will you embrace them where they are, without needing them to change or transform according to your own needs and schedule?
Will you stay close, holding your own impatience and discomfort near?
Will you look into their eyes and see yourself?
Will you stay in the inferno of healing with them,
trusting in disintegration,
knowing that you are only witnessing the falling away of an old dream?
Sometimes in doing nothing…everything is undone,
and love is revealed to be the only true medicine.”
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said: There are three ways to mourn – to weep, to be silent and to sing.
“THE FIRST WAY TO MOURN IS TO WEEP: Even if our tears are for ourselves, for our ache of loneliness, for our pain of loss, they are still sacred, for they are the tears of love.
THE SECOND WAY TO MOURN IS TO BE SILENT: to behold the mystery of love, to recall a shared moment, to remember a word or a glance, or simply at some unexpected moment, to miss someone very much and wish that he or she could be here. The twinge lasts but a moment, and passes in perfect silence.
THE THIRD WAY TO MOURN IS TO SING: to sing a hymn to life, a life that still abounds in sights and sounds and vivid colors; to sing the song our beloved no longer has the chance to sing.
We aspire to their qualities of spirit; and we trust in our heart that there is a God, a Source beyond ourselves who hears the bittersweet melody of our own song.”
We may think of our tears, our silence, and our songs…as prayers…Deep prayers from our broken hearts, our jagged thoughts, and our diminished spirits…
With awareness, and a willingness to surrender…we can begin to shift these prayers of the heart into blessing…slowly emerging in our own time from our places of grief…into a celebration and an honoring, of the life and the essence of our loved one, of their life well lived, of shared memories, of giving and receiving…all of who they were…and all of what they meant to us…these things, I believe, can never be taken from us…
The Ner Tamid, Hebrew for “Eternal flame”, burns continually in synagogues all over the world…
Our personal Ner Tamid, the eternal flame of our heart and our love, also burns continually…at times it may appear as the tiniest blue spark…but with the kindling of remembrance and the loving support from the angels in our lives who surround us, seen and unseen…our heart flame can be rekindled into a radiant fire in the hearth of our souls, warming and nourishing our very beings.
Rabbi Yoel H. Kahn suggests to us:
Like our prayers, blessings are aspirational…
We express in word and gesture our deepest yearnings. A blessing is an expression of hope…
I asked you earlier to imagine your life as a series of snapshots – short excerpts of memory – blips from the past –
To envision both challenges and cherished moments with your loved one…
if we can see our way to turn these myriad glimpses into flowing links of life’s blessings, we can begin the hard work of transforming our sadness and loss, into a series of linked and timeless blessings.
In the spirit of blessings, I would like to leave you with these:
May it be…
that out of your sorrow will once again come joy.
that out of emptiness will come a fullness of heart.
that out of shattering will come wholeness.
May the Source of all Healing bless you and comfort you.
May the Source of Strength shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Source of Wholeness rise toward you and bring you peace.