It is no secret that difficult memories can be stumbling blocks preventing us from living full and positive lives and holding us back from becoming our best authentic selves. This became clear to me when I was asked by the Rabbi of my synagogue to share memories of someone I loved during the Yizkor service on Yom Kippur. I wanted to be able to share glowing, positive memories, but something quite different happened.
My experience during that service was recently posted as “Sacred Memory” on The Jewish Writing Project, and I hope people will be interested in reading it there. The underlying question that plagued me was how to integrate painful memories into the religious and spiritual rituals that we have surrounding death and memory. I found that being able to honestly portray my father and my conflicting memories within a spiritual framework was powerful and healing and enabled me to finally begin the process of mourning.
Grief is a difficult emotion under even the best of circumstances. Humans have created ritualized ways to process grief and remember the dead for thousands of years. My own experience has been in the Jewish and Christian traditions and I do not know much about other cultural or religious approaches. While I would not suggest a tradition of eulogy or memorial that emphasizes misdeeds, sins or bad qualities, I have often felt that the liturgy fails people when their memories are not positive or good.
There are many talented and skillful therapists who can facilitate the processing of grief and its complications from a mental health perspective. But the spiritual component also needs to be reckoned with. It seems challenging to create liturgy that satisfies both the need to acknowledge the pain of memory at the same time creating a sacred space for it and honoring those memories that are positive as well. Perhaps such liturgy already exists but I am simply not aware of it.
My hope is that others will be willing to share their experiences and thoughts, and perhaps identify some sources of ritual that help address this aspect of the grieving process.