Surviving the Month of Tishrei…
…When it’s Hard to Make it Through a Day
By Leah Paley
It’s that time of year again … L’Dovid Hashem Ori, blowing shofar, teshuva; it means Tishrei is approaching. Everyone all around is starting to wonder: How many meals are there? What will my menus consist of? Who should I invite to which meal? And we are wondering how am I going to cope this year?
I’ve spent the last nine and half years trying to figure out exactly how to get through the holidays, especially ones that are “kid orientated”. I think for each family, certain things are different. One family may have a birthday connected to a holiday, and others may have a yarzeit or some other significant event. For us, Tishrei brings a whole slew of yucky dates. My son, Yossi Chaim (a”h) was diagnosed on Chai Elul. We spent Rosh Hashanah with him in the hospital with pancreatitis. Yossi’s relapse occurred during asares yemei teshuva. Yom Kippur holds the memory of the surgery my son needed following his relapse. Hoshana Rabba is the day we found out the chemo had failed (during initial treatment) and Yossi was not in remission. It was very hard for me to separate the bitter memories associated with these days.
And yet, Hashem wants us to have Simchas Torah. So the question is, how? How do we rise above our pain, and be b’simcha –full of joy – when we feel anything but happy? I asked several moms to share with me their ideas on how to cope with the holiday season. One mom, who lost her only child (at the time) told me it really depends. Family Chanukah parties were excruciatingly painful for her. She finally decided, “If I couldn’t put on a sheitel and a smile, then I didn’t go.” I was reminded of the first Chanukah after Yossi was niftar. My kids wanted to attend Chanukah on Ice. I didn’t want to go, but didn’t feel right depriving my kids of the fun. So I went and sat with a good friend and cried. My kids were thrilled and enjoyed themselves.
Here are some tips to make your Tishrei more manageable:
1- Put yourself first.
- Make sure you eat nutritious meals, get adequate rest, and exercise if possible.
- Don’t take too much upon yourself. If you are not up to doing it, learn to say NO.
“I coped last year by scaling the scope of my holidays way back. I didn’t have any guests and only made the mandatory appearances at shul. I plan to do the same this year. Simchas Torah was very hard.”
First and foremost, we must take care of ourselves. With the hustle and bustle of buying clothes for Yom Tov, shopping for the meals, actually cooking all the food, and everything, it is very easy to forget our own needs. Even though Tishrei is such a hectic time, try to take a little time for yourself. Make sure you are eating properly, and attempt to get enough sleep. I always found I was the most weepy and feeling down on the days I was short on sleep or adequate nutrition. Exercise is also important, and no, running out to the store for one more dozen eggs does not constitute exercise (unless you are literally running and not jumping in your car).
2- Do what is comfortable for you and your family.
- Consider using a different shul if your current shul brings back unpleasant memories.
- Scale back your guests.
- Surround yourself with family or close friends or eat meals out instead of at home.
“We don’t go to the same Shuls we went to with Shiny …. Also I think I’m overcompensating a little in the preparation department.”
“We did switch to another shul about a year after David died. The Yom Tov davening was in the same room where David’s funeral was, and it was easier to go somewhere else. Of course, at the other shul, not as many people knew why I cried my way through the service and one person even asked me what was wrong. For us, I think being invited out for meals was easier than staying home with just the family. At least for a brief period I was concentrating on something else. The empty seat at the table was just too hard to bear.”
“For me being with my family made it easier. For the first years, my parents, brothers and in-laws would come to Miami and spend the holidays with us; and that made a huge difference. We were never alone. They still try to alternate the holidays and at least one member of our extended family is here for the holidays and it’s great.”
As bereaved parents, part of the grieving process is learning how to wear a mask. The first year or even two or three are very intense. The grief at times can be overwhelming. Bereaved parents need to realize that it is OK to take a more gentle approach with yourself. If you feel you can’t do something, maybe skip it this year. (For example, if you always had a ton of people at your Yom Tov table, or made a lot of courses, maybe this year you can have a few very close friends or make a simpler menu.) An important lesson we learn during this time is how to live with our grief.
3- Include your child.
- Display their artwork.
- Put out something symbolic of your child.
- Don’t be afraid to mention his/her name at the table.
“Holidays are always hard but not as hard as the birthday and yarzeit. Living far from family, makes it even harder. Sukkot and Pesach are easier because we get together with family. I still hang all of Chaya Renana’s decorations from preschool through fifth grade and am very careful when hanging them to make sure they will not be destroyed by wind or storms. They have been laminated and even re-laminated. Even her pillow case is still used at our Seder from Kindergarten. I also have cute place cards that both my daughters made for family members and each year I have to put those away and will reuse them at Pesach. I have since had others make cards for the younger, new family members. Rosh Hashana is hard since now my two older kids are away and don’t come home for the chag. I try to entertain or be entertained with friends.”
“Sukkos is always hard for me because of the way we decorate the Sukkah. I go way over the top and we use all the kids’ artwork. It makes me feel better to hang Jacob’s projects prominently up along with the others. It also helps, I think, when other people see things hanging with his name on them. It is an opening to talk about him. Isn’t that what we all want for our children to be a real part of our holidays and everyday lives?”
“Celebrating the child themselves and not dreading the holiday is one way to do it. I remember everyone told us how all the firsts would be the worst. That was not the case for us.”
Almost every mom seemed to say that including the child in the Yom Tov was helpful. In my family, for a long time we set a chair at the table and felt Yossi was included. We no longer leave an empty chair, but Yossi’s becher continues to grace our Shabbos and Yom Tov table. Figure out a way to include your child in your Yom Tov preparations. Maybe it is just signing their name on a L’shana Tova card or hanging up some of their artwork in the sukkah or using their handmade seder plate at Pesach.
4- Use gemilus chasadim to raise your spirits.
- Make a donation somewhere l’ilui nishmas your child.
- Do something for someone else, like giving challah to an elderly neighbor, etc.
Years ago when I was in seminary, I was feeling down about something. One of my good friends suggested to me that I do a chessed. She explained that doing something nice for someone else would make me feel good. Grief is a very individual and inward process. The idea of reaching out to someone else may help pull someone out of the intense grief and give them the ability to cope with the horrible loss they are experiencing.
5- Don’t feel guilty.
- You are allowed to give yourself space if you need it.
- You are allowed to be happy if you feel it.
It is perfectly OK to enjoy the holidays. Please don’t feel guilty if you find yourself smiling. It is not “disrespectful” to your child’s memory. I don’t believe our children want us to sit around and be sad. We should attempt to try and make Tishrei as pleasant as possible for ourselves and for those around us, while still trying to acknowledge our loss.
Personally, over the years, I have tried many of these suggestions. The first Simchas Torah after Yossi a”h died, I couldn’t bear to be at the same shul we used to go to. I went to a different shul, but it was still hard. I had a hard time with the idea that I was forced to be happy when I was so miserable. As the years have gone by, the Yom Tovim b”h have gotten better. And while I still cringe on chai Elul, it is not with the same intensity. Wishing you all a k’siva v’chasima tova, and may we all merit to be reunited with our children very quickly with the coming of Moshiach!
Printed in Our Tapestry #12