I was asked today, Who comforts the rabbi when a congregant dies? It’s a good question. Most of a rabbi’s focus is on comforting others; family members, friends and neighbors of the deceased, other congregants, the synagogue staff.
But often, as was the case this week when a member of my congregation died, the rabbi too is in mourning. I’ve known this man for over a decade and cared deeply for him. He was smart, still sharp as a tack at age 99, sweet, generous, and caring. He had attended all of last weekend’s sessions with our visiting scholar, and he enjoyed every minute of it. He died peacefully in his sleep just a few months shy of his 100th birthday, and yet I was still stunned when I heard the news. My last conversation with him was about the party we were planning.
Sometimes people forget that the rabbi (or cantor or priest or minister) has experienced a personal loss when a congregant dies. And there are others who are in mourning, yet overlooked. Many elderly and disabled people have aides who spend more time with them than anyone else. Adult children, siblings, and other family members often live far away. It is the aides who are by the person’s side, often quite literally day and night, for months and even years.
I have been to many funerals where grieving aides were in attendance, weeping openly, yet sitting off to the side to ensure that the family members received comfort and condolences.
Who comforts the aides? Often it’s the adult children. And they do it tenderly, lovingly. They know how much their parents meant to them. They know that the aides’ hearts are breaking too. It isn’t always the case, but I am deeply moved when I see an adult son with his arms around a sobbing aide, when I watch a daughter make sure an aide joins the family for a meal and introduces her as a close family friend to visitors.
And the rabbi? Well, other rabbis, for one. The rabbis who are members of my congregation immediately reached out to me with words of comfort and support.
And I am fortunate to serve a community that considers me a member of the congregational family, as well as their rabbi. All day as the news spread, I received calls and emails of condolence.
We use the word congregation to describe our churches, synagogues, and mosques, but we forget what the word means. It comes from Latin word congregare, which means to gather together. We congregate, gather together, and form a circle of support for everyone whose life is affected, in times of joy and times of need.
In loving memory of Ed Margolius
June 21, 1918 to February 1, 2018
May his memory be a blessing