"Take solace in the fact that she's in a better place now."
"Don't sit around moping after the breakup—you need to get out!"
"Cheer up! It'll get better from here."
"You just gotta keep busy to keep your mind off of it!"
"You're doing great!"
"Life goes on, you can't drop out from it forever."
In a lot of ways, contemporary American culture is uncomfortable with the idea of mourning—and many other kinds of displays of extreme emotions. All too often, those who are grieving—whether grieving a loved one who has died, the end of a relationship, even the giving up on a dream—are told to chin up, look on the bright side, and to move on as quickly as possible. It sends the message, though, that these feelings are best dealt with quietly, without too much trouble, on one's own.
But grief—whether one is—is a complex, multilayered process. It's not always linear. It winds itself around us again and again, changing shape and heft at various points. It's dark, and hard, and bitter. For some, it's like feeling underwater, or like all the color has been sucked out of everything. For others, it's intense and vicious. For a lot of people, it takes different forms at different times.
As such, Ask Big Questions and Ritualwell thought that it would be important to ask: How do we mourn? How do we mourn as individuals? As Americans? As Jews?
Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE, and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people. It's a day of fasting and mourning, and has become a time to remember other great calamities that have befallen the Jewish people, such as episodes of forced martyrdom, the destruction of medieval Jewish communities during the Crusades, and the Holocaust. The Book of Lamentations, which is read on Tisha B’Av, recounts the devastation wrought with the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonia in 586 BCE, personifying the city as a mourning woman. Over the course of five chapters, the tone of the poem—and the voice of the mourner—moves from denial and horror into anger and hurt and depression, from despair into a yearning for redemption.
The rituals of Tisha B'Av give us space to experience our grief. We read the Book of Lamentations from low stools or sitting on the floor, as in a house of mourning. We refuse food like one approaching death. We refrain from sex, luxurious oils, comfortable leather shoes, bathing—life affirming activites. Ritual is a container that can help us hold some of the complexity of our feelings.
And conversations—the right kind of conversations—can, too. And both in ritual and in discussion we can come together, we can create a special, holy frame for the work of experiencing more fully the things that we haven't given ourselves space and permission for in the hubub of the everyday. In both discussion and ritual we open a space for communion with others, to get out of our isolation.
On Tisha B'Av or on any day, we don't have to grieve alone.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg is the Director of Educational Content for Ask Big Questions and the author of the Sami Rohr Prize-nominated Surprised By God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion; The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism, and other books. She is currently working on a book of essays on parenting as a spiritual practice, to be published in 2016.