One of the most difficult things we do is comforting someone in mourning. Consoling the bereaved requires personal, thoughtful artistry. It cannot be done from a distance or delegated to another person. Burying the deceased and comforting the mourners is considered one of the greatest deeds we do.
We have many stories in our tradition that share the helpful ways we can comfort a mourner to be present for their pain. We also have many stories of the ways, while well intentioned, we can be less helpful. The story of Job is one of those well intentioned but ultimately harmful stories. After Job deals with unimaginable tragedy, Job’s friends come to his home to try to bring him some sense of comfort. Instead, their words hurt him, exacerbating his torment, pain and suffering.
The story of Ruth and Boaz, can be a much more helpful story in how we bring about comfort. Ruth is a young widow, living in a foreign land, gleaning leftover crops from the field of Boaz. Boaz, instead of ignoring her, chooses to ask after her, he offers her physical support, water to drink and protection in his field. He also offers emotional support, he acknowledges her pain and suffering and shares a brief word, “May you be rewarded and may you find the support you are seeking.” (Ruth 2:12)
From Ruth and Boaz, we learn the importance of choosing our words carefully and being present to offer both physical and emotional support in providing comfort to members of our community.
Over the past year, the Chicago Sinai Caring Community Task Force has worked to better understand how we can support our community through challenging lifecycle events like death and mourning. One of the ways we have been working to improve this aspect of our congregational life is through improved communication.
Last year, in our Focus Groups, we heard that often members of the congregation did not know when other members and friends were going through lifecycle events. In response, we now share lifecycle news in our weekly email, allowing our entire community to celebrate weddings and births together and also to mourn and console each other through the death of a loved one.
We however, also know that consoling the bereaved is a time sensitive matter. We cannot support others in mourning if we are not aware of the details of funerals and shiva in advance. We cannot be present for others if we are not aware of how to be present. We cannot share words of comfort, offer physical or emotional support if we are not present.
Beginning this fall, In order to enhance our ability to respond, we are beginning to send separate “In Memoriam” emails. These emails will share the important and time sensitive information of a recent death in our community, as well as funeral and shiva arrangements. We hope this will help connect individuals in our community and better support each other through life’s challenges. This way we will all be able to offer words of comfort, physical and emotional support to our friends and members of our community.
We learn from Ruth and Boaz that even the smallest words makes an immense difference. We hope in the coming year, we can continue to improve the ways we console and comfort each other.