Coping with Loss
It is natural for someone who experiences a loss of something important in his life to feel sad, and to mourn over what he has lost. However, sooner or later the time comes for a person to pick himself up, and begin to enjoy his life again.
This week's Torah portion instructs the Kohanim, the Priests of the Holy Temple, how to go about mourning over the loss of a close relative. The Torah guides them to fully take care of their needs, but not to go overboard and mourn so much that it prevents them from going on with their lives. We learn from here how to react in a balanced way to whatever life sends our way.
In our story, a boy discovers how to go on with his life after losing something he loved.
The sleek dog seemed to fly through the air, as he gracefully jumped to catch the flying Frisbee with his mouth.
"Wow, Skippy caught it again. That's five times in a row!" squealed Rebecca Rainer with glee.
The dog, nearly a year old, had captured the hearts of the entire Rainer family with his sweet temperament and ever-wagging tail - except for Matt, who sat alone in his room, seemingly oblivious to the great fun his brother and sister were having out in the back yard.
Matt didn't play with Skippy, in fact he hardly even looked at him. Not that he was a bad dog, nor had he ever done anything wrong. But one thing was never going to change as far as Matt was concerned: Skippy wasn't Rex, and he never would be.
When Rex, the old family dog, had died last year, all the kids had been really sad. But little by little things seemed to return to normal, and Skippy, their new dog, had done a lot to help the hurt go away.
But Matt just couldn't let go. He kept pictures of Rex in a special album, and almost a year later would still come to tears by just looking at them. In fact, Matt was doing just that, when he heard a knock at his bedroom door.
"Oh, hi Dad," he said quietly.
"Matt, it's a beautiful spring day outside," said Mr. Rainer. "Why don't you come out and join us? I'm making a barbeque, and everyone's out in the yard having a great time playing Frisbee..."
"...Playing with Skippy, right? No thanks," Matt said.
His dad looked at his son's sad eyes, noticed the open photo album on his lap, and realized how he was feeling. He sat down next to the boy, and put his arm around his shoulder. "You're looking at pictures of Rex, I see. He sure was a good dog, wasn't he?"
"I liked him too," his father added, "even though it took me a while to get used to him."
Matt looked up wide-eyed. "Why did you have to get used to him?"
"Didn't you know," Mr. Rainer continued, "that before we got Rex, we had another dog? Joe was his name. I guess you wouldn't remember, since you weren't much more than a baby at the time. He was a beautiful black Retriever, and we had him for a long time. After Joe died we got Rex and it took me a long time to warm up to him. I just really missed Joe."
"So, what did you do?" asked Matt, now brimming with curiosity.
His dad shrugged and smiled. "After a while I started to realize that Joe was gone, and part of the past. For whatever reason, God had decided that Rex was the dog that was supposed to be part of my life right now, and that it was time for me to go on living my life, with Rex as a part of it. After that, things just seemed to go a lot smoother. I never forgot old Joe, but I also learned how to enjoy the good that I had now."
Matt sat quietly and thought about what his father said. The silence was broken by Skippy's happy yelps from the front yard. Matt closed the album, and put it on his shelf. Rex would always have a place in his life, but so did Skippy. "Dad, I think I will come out and help you barbeque, but if you don't mind I think I'll throw a little Frisbee with the kids ... and Skippy, first."
Q. How did Matt feel about Skippy at first?
A. He didn't want to play with him, because he was so sad about his old dog, Rex.
Q. How did he feel after talking with his dad?
A. He felt much better, and ready to play with Skippy, since he understood that even though he missed his old dog he could still enjoy his new one.
Q. Do you thing Matt was being disloyal to Rex by playing with Skippy? Why or why not?
A. While Matt had a lot of mixed feelings concerning his old dog, he made the right choice when he decided to accept and enjoy his new dog, Skippy. While it was normal for him to feel sad when Rex died, eventually he had to go on. It wasn't being disloyal, because when God takes something out of our lives, He wants us to make the best of our lives the way they are now.
Q. Why do you think the story his father told him about Joe, his old dog, helped Matt begin to enjoy his new dog?
A. First of all it helped him realize that even though someone is hurt by a loss of something dear to him, he can go on. But also, he came to see how life is a cycle, and that at one time even Rex was a new dog that had to be accepted. It's part of life that there are going to be changes and adjustments and it is up to us to do what we can to adjust to what life brings us, even when it's not easy.
Q. Have you ever lost something that was very dear to you?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Why do you think people are able to bounce back from losses and disappointments that at first seem overwhelming?
A. There is a mechanism that God has made a part of human nature called forgetting. As time passes, even the most traumatic events and painful losses tend to slip further and further into the backs of our minds. This is a positive thing, because without it, every painful incident would remain as fresh as the day it happened, and it would be truly impossible to go on.
Q. Is there ever a loss, or disappointment so great that a person can't or shouldn't ever forget about it?
A. Certainly genuine, major losses are always going to be part of the person who experiences them. These things come to shape a person's life and are never really fully forgotten. However, even these need to be put into their proper perspective, and not hold a person back from moving on with his life, and finding joy in what he has. It is important to remember that God is actively involved with our lives, and He gives us, or takes away, parts of it according to what is ultimately best for us. Keeping this thought in mind gives a person a tremendous power to respond in a balanced, healthy way to whatever happens.
Q. Have you ever lost something that was very dear to you?