Maverick Life

THE SPIRITUALS

When facing death and loss, never underestimate the power of community

Often, at times of loss, we look to the spiritual world for guidance and comfort. Helping others may hold the key to your own healing, suggests Rabbi Osher Feldman.

The past year has been filled with immense amounts of death, sorrow and loss. Between 3 May 2020 and 16 January 2021, the number of excess deaths in our country was more than 106,000, a staggering number of people.

Each of these deaths left a community of family, friends and loved ones in shock and mourning. In moments such as these, many of us often seek spiritual guidance to help us understand.

Rabbi Osher Feldman, Rabbi of the Gardens Shul in Cape Town, the oldest Jewish congregation in the country – founded in 1841, according to their website – suggests some paths to healing during this time.

Feldman, who describes the past year as filled with “loneliness, uncertainty, and confusion” explains that community can be one of the mainstays for people who are struggling or are in mourning.

“We must never underestimate the power of community to help people through difficult times. Often, it is the help that we get beyond ourselves, which is really what spirituality is founded on, which assists us during difficult times,” he says.

However, when trying to work through loss, he explains that certain aspects of the process of mourning, for example charity work done on behalf of the deceased, may be helpful.

“We believe that the soul continues to exist, even once the body no longer exists. The soul is in a better place, in a place of holiness, of tranquillity, of peacefulness. However, there’s one disadvantage of living in a world of souls – you are not able to fulfil a good deed in this physical world. You can’t bring comfort or kindness or compassion or healing to somebody in this world… so the greatest way of honouring someone is through doing something positive and practical in this world.”

Feldman says he has anecdotally seen this lead to the healing of people who are in mourning. 

“When a person goes beyond themselves, when they go beyond their comfort zone, when they reach out to help someone, and when they don’t remain within the sadness, but they elevate themselves beyond that to do something positive and good for the world, then the seed of sorrow becomes planted and flourishes for more positivity in the world.

“That, ultimately, brings not only the betterment of other people, that ultimately brings psychological healing to the person who is doing the acts now.”

To those who are facing death, or for those wishing to assist someone in such a position, he says speaking to a religious or spiritual adviser may be useful, if the person is so inclined.

“It’s so important to create that space for the person facing those moments in their lives, to speak to a rabbi, priest, imam, whoever it is, and be able to share their honest feelings, whether it’s a fear, anxiety or uncertainty. Very often it’s not just about looking for answers, they’re looking for deeper spiritual truths.

“It is about utilising those opportunities to bring spirituality, whether it’s through prayers, whether it’s through teachings… but first and foremost, it’s about creating that space for them and following their lead.”

However, this past year has been particularly strenuous on all, with a sense of loss felt and experienced by many of us – physical, emotional or financial. Feldman encourages people to reach out if they are struggling. 

“I would just emphasise the power of community. If you reach out when you’re feeling down, it can help you feel a bit better. But I think it’s a responsibility on all of us just to be a little bit more mindful, a little bit more sensitive, and just to go the extra mile.”

Community structures have been made difficult by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the rabbi sees a silver lining, since virtual spaces allow people from all over the world to form part of your community. “We can create this virtual space where we can pray together, we can cry together, we can share together, we can learn together.”

In the end, Feldman says that suffering can eventually transform into meaning, and the state of mourning can come to an end. “The scar is always there. The pain is always there. If a person loses a loved one, it is always going to be difficult. But you can transform that suffering into meaning so that you can carry on with life and carry the legacy of the deceased for them, because that’s the ultimate gift.” DM/ML

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  • This is a wise article and full of sage advice – I have walked my own bereavement journey for the past two years following the death of my husband of 54 years. I was at all times surrounded by amazing communities of caring people and without them I do know how I would have managed. Thanks Rabbi!

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