A journey that leads to pain

Rabbi Dr. Irwin Wiener

Can anyone explain the pain of losing a child? Can anyone understand the torment that comes from the guilt associated with such a loss? Can anyone really explain the feeling of despair after realizing that a future has been destroyed? Time and again, we are subjected to tragedies affecting our children.

The ancients taught that to appreciate the joy and fulfillment of life, we must experience pain. And what greater pain is there than for parents to lose the love and goodness that these sacrifices represent?

Life is filled with anticipation and expectations. We look at our child and begin to imagine and contemplate: Should this beautiful person be a doctor, or a teacher? Will the one we nurtured look like us? Will we make the same mistakes our parents made, or will we be different?

Suddenly, these dreams and visions are interrupted by illness or the acts of madmen. Our child has died, and so has part of our posterity. The romantic notions of success and abundance are lost in a tunnel of emptiness. We sink into the depths of dejections. Where is my little one? Why are there empty beds and empty places in our hearts? We are stunned and frozen. Everything moves around us, but we are motionless.

Is this what the ancients were trying to teach us when they talked about pain endurance? Must there be bereavement to appreciate life? Are not the young entitled to experience the durability associated with growth? All we have are questions, and more questions, and seemingly no answers.

Perhaps our ancestors were trying to teach us how to cope with adversity, some so devastating as to cause us to languish in total sadness. Perhaps the message is that terrible things happen, and we have the ability to overcome these troublesome experiences by learning to extend a helping hand, and to comfort, and to offer solace. This is our obligation as human beings. This is our duty as survivors.

I believe that the generations past were trying to teach us that there are so many painless possibilities in our lives that we are duty bound not to concentrate on pain. And we ask, “What should we do?,” one suggestion is to turn to prayer and scripture, understanding that neither is designed to prevent tragedy, rather is offered as a way to learn the value and purpose of life.

Prayer is the simple way to vent our frustrations so that we will arrive at some method of understanding the difficulties we face. Scripture is designed to allow us the possibility to learn to cope and accept. Perhaps that is what the Psalmist was teaching us when he writes about “Walking through the Valley.”

God will surely grant immortality to those we have lost, and He will look kindly upon our efforts to ensure the viability of our lives. This should be our prayer as we bury our dreams and aspirations embodied in the very treasures we have lost, always remembering that the extent of a life is not as important as the content of that life.