Reflections on the Death of a Parent
A very good friend of mine recently lost his father. Naturally, this brought back thoughts of when my mother, Penny Waga, died in 2013. It also reminded me of the sheer, raw pain caused by the loss of a parent.
I remember the pain — and the feeling of constant darkness — that I felt while sitting shiva. A story Rabbi Avi Weiss told at the time (which is included in his book Holistic Prayer) is worth sharing in this context:
To what can death be compared? To a person who enters a darkened room for the first time and trips over the furniture. Each time he enters the room, he learns more and more where the furniture stands. In time, he becomes familiar with the room, and despite the darkness knows how to get around. So, too, death. There is darkness in death that cannot be chased away. But it is possible to learn how to continue to live despite the darkness which forever remains.
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As I told my friend, it really only becomes about learning to live with the darkness, and navigate that dark room. Years after the death of my mom, it is still painful and dark — it just gets a little better with time.
As Rabbi Weiss continued:
At times, however, it is impossible to bracket pain, as the suffering is so overwhelming that it suffuses the very core of our being. Sometimes there are no answers. In this spirit I stood before my congregation after my mother died more than twenty-five years ago and apologized. I said, “I’m sorry. All these years I thought my goal as a rabbi was in time of death to remove the pain, stop the suffering, mend the broken heart, lift the heaviness. With the death of my mother, I have come to realize that this is impossible. One can’t remove the darkness, but should try to reach out to God, and feel his embrace as He helps us go on.”
For some things there may remain no answers; maybe only time is something that blunts the pain.