Fully revised with a new author's preface and epilogue, Anne Brener brings us an innovative integration of Jewish tradition and modern professional resources in this third edition of a modern classic.
Mourning & Mitzvah gives spiritual insight and healing wisdom to those who mourn a death, to those who would help them, and to those who face a loss of any kindMourning & Mitzvah teaches you the power and strength available to you in the fully experienced mourning process.
When the temple stood in the ancient city of Jerusalem, mourners walked through the gates and into the courtyard along a specifically designated mourner's path. As they walked, they came face to face with all the other members of the community, who greeted them with the ancestor of the blessing, "May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." In this way, the community embraced those suffering bereavement, yet allowed for unique experiences of grief.
This is the 25th edition of a very important work--that will help the reader work through their own grief work. It takes the journey of grief--both her own mourning her mother and her sister--and her patients as a rabbi and a therapist--and provides exercises that go with the deep feelings that sometimes we don't even want to acknowledge. I loved how she took common Hebrew shoreshim (roots) and explained how they are part of the cycle. She held her audience and spoke directly to each person from a place of knowing what grief can feel like. I began this book when she came to speak to the Chicago Board of Rabbis and I am glad I found it. So much in it. So rich. For professionals working with people in grief and for people in grief. One caution, I would never just hand this to someone who had just experienced a loss.
Although this book contains many Hebrew words, the author offers adequate explanation to ensure that the Hebrew terms are understood by Non-Jews.
While this book contains over sixty exercises and is intended to function as a personal grief journal, I did not complete any of them. Nor did I write journal entries in this book. I don’t think that the librarians and my fellow library patrons-in-mourning would appreciate that. However, even without completing any of the recommended tasks, this book helped me.
The author, Anne Brener, L.C.S.W., wrote Mourning and Mitzvah after experiencing two tragedies within three months. Brener’s mother struggled with life-long depression. When Brener was in her mid-twenties, her mother committed suicide. Three months later, Brener’s only sibling, Jan, died in a car accident.
This book was written for people dealing with a death, but people have reported finding this book helpful after a traumatic transition such as divorce, medical crisis, or other difficult change.
The first half of Mourning & Mitzvah is based on the stages of a year of bereavement. Brener refers to the “grief-work” that the mourner must perform in order to progress through the grieving process. “Work” is an apt description. Mourning is hard work, and it is exhausting. There are no shortcuts. It’s a matter of ‘Pay me now, or pay me later.”
Brener acknowledges, “The person you lost is not going to return…..you will never fully get over this loss. You are likely to miss this person for the rest of your life.
But there is something else—something that coexists with this sobering reality: Despite the fact that the death will remain the same, you—and life as you know it—can change. And in that change an entire world, filled with possibilities, can open up. This change comes through the process of mourning.
The process of mourning is the way in which the rupture created by the death of a person significant to you can begin to heal. Proper grief-work requires focusing on feelings associated with grief. It is the essential and indispensable labor of healing.”
Brener goes on to say, “Whatever the timetable, feelings do change. The mourning process works, if you will engage in it. Fully engaging means that you will be a different person from the one you were before you began.” Mourning & Mitzvha is full of meaningful quotes from various sages. Among them: “Comforting the mourner is an act of loving-kindness toward both the living and the dead.” -- Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 193:11
“What preparations have you made to open to an inner life so full that whatever happens can be used as a means of enriching your focus.” --Stephen Levine
When grief-work becomes too intense, Brener recommends that the mourner take a break from grieving to nourish themselves by: “1. Exercise 2. Write in my journal 3. Meditate 4. Call a friend 5. Go to synagogue 6. Take a hot bath 7. Listen to music 8. Go to a museum 9. Get a massage 10. Talk to a therapist” and she encourages the reader to add their own nourshing suggestions to the list.
Hmmm…. Garett would have heartily approved of the “exercise” recommendation. Myself, I might try a combination of sunshine, books, blogging, and dark chocolate.
Anne Brener reminds us of “our obligation to continue the task of living, carrying on the values of those who have died and the obligation of the Jew to choose life.”
Brener describes a prayer called the burial Kaddish which “helps anchor the bereaved on earth…..and then turn to face the world without someone who has, until that moment, been central to bringing meaning to it.”
“Or there may be a rush of false serenity that is unwittingly encouraged by well-intentioned comforters saying such bromides as ‘It was God’s will’ or ‘She’s at peace now.’ These might unintentionally persuade you to deny that questions, angers, or other deep feelings so necessary for a healthy adjustment to loss.”
The last chapter of Mourning & Mitzvah is entitled, “Those Who Say “Amen”: How to Comfort the Bereaved.” This chapter addresses the conflict between the mourner’s need to be coccooned in a private space where they can summon personal resources with the comforter’s urgent need to help and their feeling of powerlessness.
Brener explains that the comforter cannot return what has been lost or take the pain away. She says that there are limits to what the caregiver can do for the mourner, but that allowing the mourner to progress at their own pace is truly helpful. Remaining available to help over the long-haul when the mourner is ready to receive help is an act of grace.
Also, Anne Brenner points out that comforters must have “tools to enable them to empty the pain that accumulates.”
She explains, “Our tradition tells us that those who visit the sick (and I think we can extend that to include visits to all people who are suffering), take away one sixtieth of their illness. The question that always rises for me is: Where does it go?”
Comforters must practice self-care.
Even though I didn’t do a single exercise from this book, I appreciated that Brener presented another point of view on mourning.
And that’s not to say that I won’t follow up with a grief-work exercise. One of the exercises is to light a candle.
As strenuous as this act is, as risky as it is with the boys, and as hard as will be to find a match after the extreme baby-proofing efforts at our house, I think I might just light a candle for Garett.
I’m not sure how I could have made it through the last year of mourning for my father without this wonderful book. It is really an interactive workbook that guides you through many transformative journaling exercises throughout roughly a year of the Jewish mourning process. Anne Brener is both a psychologist and rabbi and shares great wisdom from both teachings in ways that I found enormously helpful.
It's a wonderful book, which was also recommended to me. It encourages you to think very deeply about the loss of a loved one and everything and everyone surrounding you... and experience the strong feelings and emotions that go along with this.
Good grief. This is an incredibly complete experience. There is so much great info about the Jewish tradition, words I finally know the meaning of, rituals explored and all clearly explained by this very brilliant writer. It has helped me deal with the overwhelming feelings that have come up over the recent death of my father. Complex, deep, yet accessible and easy to read. Highly recommended.
This is an extremely helpful guide for a Jewish mourner. The author intertwines her own experiences with grief and lessons from tradition. Helpful exercises are included. I would recommend buying this as a gift for someone who is grieving. The last chapter has bonus material for ways someone can effectively comfort a mourner.
This wonderful book helped me after my beloved mother died. I do not usually write about my feelings, but this book gently encourages doing so and I was able to work out my grief, slowly over time. I highly recommend this book.