by Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider for aish.com
Holiday times can often be the roughest terrain to navigate after a loss.
Every person copes differently with the painful feelings of bereavement and of missing loved ones especially during these days of celebration. Remember there is no right or wrong way to handle the holiday when facing our grief. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. Acknowledging the pain is important.
Although holiday times often magnify our loss, these times are appropriate occasions to incorporate and honour the memory of the precious souls we miss. While on the one hand, it may be painful to recall happier times and speak about loved ones who are absent in our lives, we also find meaning and comfort when we express our unending love for those we so dearly miss, especially during such milestone events.
Here are 8 suggestions how to incorporate the memory of your loved one into your Chanukah observance:
1. Storytelling around the lights. Following the lighting of the menorah, many observe the custom of singing songs and offering prayers. This as an opportune time to share memories of loved ones. Have others share a favourite story about loved ones who have passed. Merely speaking the person’s name is important and significant. Go around the room and give ‘thanks’ for the unique ways that the deceased touched everyone’s life. Share the idea that special memories and love can never be taken from us.
2. Put up a photo of your loved one. Do you have photographs of your loved one that was taken during holiday time? Possibly a photograph of that person at a menorah lighting? Place that precious picture near the place you kindle the lights. Chanukah is time that we recall our history and remember the past. This is true in our own personal lives as well. Displaying a picture may also serve as a trigger, making it easier for you and for others to share something about the person and recall a precious memory.
3. A personal prayer after the lighting. Judaism’s spiritual teachings express the idea that the moments that the candles flicker are an auspicious time for prayer. In the presence of the menorah’s light we can offer a personal prayer on behalf of our loved ones. Tears and sadness may come. Its ok to have the cry you need. The sorrowful emotions that you express are healthy and part of the grieving process. Grief experts say that experiencing the pain rather than constantly trying to escape it actually leads to better coping and feeling better in the long run.
4. Your loved one’s favourite foods. Include one of your loved one’s favourite dishes in the holiday meal. Like other holidays throughout the year, Chanukah is a time we actualise our gratitude by enjoying a festive meal. Was there a special recipe that your loved one would cook or bake? Was there a particular kind of food that was his/her favourite? A meal shared with family and friends can often serve as the right setting for everyone present to openly share wonderful memories.
5. Buy a gift you would have given to your loved one. Is there a special gift that you would have bought your loved one? Purchase that gift and donate it to a local charity. There is an ancient Chanukah custom of giving additional charity during the eight-day festival. Giving an actual gift or a monetary donation in memory of your loved one is a beautiful way to enhance your Chanukah celebration, by bringing joy to others. This charitable act brings honour to the memory of your beloved.
6. Reach out to others. The Chassidic master, Sfat Emet, taught that the biblical personality of Aaron the High Priest had a special relationship to the holiday of Chanukah. He was the first to light a Menorah. Aaron’s connection to these days does not end there. Our tradition teaches that Aaron specialized in bringing people closer to one another. Chanukah is a festival of friendship and love. Doing things that help you feel connected to others is very important. Do something kind for someone else. Consider the challenges someone else may be enduring. Reach out to them. Bring companionship and support to a friend in need.
7. The oil would not be extinguished. Chassidic tradition teaches that the word ‘the oil’ hashemen has the same letters as neshama, ‘soul’. Chanukah reminds us that, like the miracle of the olive oil, the soul of every person lives on. The soul does not end with death. Our connection with our beloved always lives on. One of the remarkable Jewish ideas concerning the concept of ‘the world to come’ is the affirmation that departed souls continue to see and watch over their loved ones who are still alive in this world. At the same time, a person who does a good deed in this world has a lasting impact on the soul in the next world; the soul becomes elevated from the ripple effect of the good deed.
8. Chanukah is a holiday of hope. We are all familiar with the miracle of the oil which miraculously lasted eight days. What is also remarkable and miraculous is that one anonymous individual had the determination to search for the oil amidst the destruction in the first place. The days of Chanukah encourage us to actualize our own inner light – even when the darkness is heavy. Standing side by side with our grief, may the blessings that surround us encourage us. The flames of the menorah reveal sparks of resilience and faith. May hope and faith envelop us during these sacred days when these themes shine bright.
About the Author:
Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider is the founding director of theIn Our Hearts Projectwww.inourheartsproject.org which offers guidance, strength and support after the loss of a child. He is the author of a book about Hanukkah, The Light That Unites(OU Press). The book offers creative ways to make Hanukkah and especially the candle lighting more meaningful and joyous. He is also the author of the bestselling Haggadah, The Night That Unites(Urim Publications).
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