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Grief is Not a Learning Opportunity

When I have been in moments of grief and someone tells me, “You will learn so much from this,” I want to scream.

When I have been in moments of grief and someone tells me, “You will learn so much from this,” I want to scream.

Grief is not a learning opportunity. Grief cannot be encapsulated into pithy facts learned about the universe, because grief dismantles the universe and asks us, while standing in the shambles, “What do you think you’ll do with this, punk?”
It is not a learning opportunity, though many of us can find relief by shifting into an observer role, looking at the undulating waves of loss and anxiety and anger and relief instead of swimming in those feelings.
Over the past few months now, since launching my podcast Kaddish, I have become the Death Girl to my networks and listeners–any question, or fact, or article on death comes my way. Kaddish was born out of an outpouring of need, for a resource that can hold how identity makes grief and dying difficult, beautiful, and nuanced. And now, having just launched the third full episode of Kaddish, I find myself being drawn to people who are experiencing these moments, and being connected with stories and resources on any range of topics about death and dying.
It feels good to know where to put something–especially when that something is death, when that topic feels too big to hold. So I’m happy to read every email, have every conversation over the kiddush oneg, and take every walk with friends. And knowing where to put  something, see that is why ritual matters, why it can save our lives. Because we have somewhere to put  these feelings that are so huge, that are ripping us apart. Because in ritual we can express relief that it’s over, joy over a life lived, guilt over not doing more. Ritual can hold all that.
Becoming the Death Girl for my communities means seeing the ways that we are all, truly, all of us, on a cycle of healing, memory, and acute grief.
Sitting at a table at a wedding this summer, and noticing one of my tablemates weep as the father of the bride gives a toast, knowing her own wedding was pending. Deeply seeing her hold that her own father was gone, that she was mourning his absence in this moment, and future moments.
Hearing classmates and teachers recite the mourner’s kaddish every day for a year as I do the same, and noticing how our voices grow bold, or shake, or grow routine, or quiet. Seeing the undulating power of a year of saying the same words for the same person. The only thing that changes is how we hold the grief.
Watching a dear friend put the Torah back into the ark on a Saturday morning, and being overcome knowing that this is how we lovingly dress bodies–we wrap them in holy garments, and place them in the ark. Knowing that she was preparing to do just the same for a family member. Knowing we create and recreate moments of our dying throughout life, to understand it somehow.
Grief is not a learning opportunity, but it is a cruel teacher. In the span of a lifetime we will create life, and recreate moments of dying- through dressing the Torah and putting it in the ark, through sickness and healing, through anxiety. In the span of a lifetime we will mourn death, we will feel the shock of absence and not be able to go on. We will swim in those waves. We won’t drown. Maybe what we learn from all this is how to swim.

Ariana Katz is the host of Kaddish, a podcast about death, mourning, and the people who do it. Ariana is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. She is a member of the Philadelphia Reconstructionist Chevra Kadisha, a volunteer chaplain and board member at Planned Parenthood of South East Pennsylvania, and a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council. Ariana is in training to become a soferet, a scribe of sacred Jewish text.


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