Parashat Chayei Sarah marks the death of Sarah:
“And Sarah died in Kiriath arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her. And Abraham arose from before his dead, and he spoke to the sons of Heth” (Genesis 23:2-3).
I think this passage offers us a good lesson regarding mourning. Loss is an inherent part of life, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, of a relationship, of our health, or of whatever other precarious gift that we are given that can be taken from us in the blink of an eye. This week’s parasha finds Abraham who, according to the Midrash, has just completed his tenth and final test of faith, and who instead of relaxing must now confront the loss of his wife, who has been more or less the one constant in his life (aside maybe from Eliezer) since Avraham left his homeland and family and set out on the long that started in Parashat Lech Lecha.
Now, keep in mind that this was all taking place many years ago in the middle east. To put it more bluntly, Avraham must bury Sarah ASAP because there are no cool storage facilities around to keep Sarah’s body while he figures out the burial situation. Avraham could have sorted out the burial plot first, since that was urgent business, and waited to “eulogize Sarah and to bewail her” only after. But what does Avraham do? First he eulogizes; then he “bewails” Sarah; and only then can he conduct business.
When we suffer loss, we are often tempted to “power through”; to “think positively”; to “move on”. (Maybe this doesn’t apply to the loss of a partner or of a family member, but it does apply to more minor losses that we go through regularly.) I think, therefore, that we can all take a lesson from Avraham and his mourning process.
First, Avraham eulogizes Sarah. He honors her memory and the imprint that her existence left on this world. When we lose something, we should also try and honor that which was lost, and remind ourselves of all the good things that are still around that came from that which was lost, even if the source of all those good things is no more.
Then, Avraham bewails her. He cries about her. He lets himself be sad; while remembering the good that was and still is, he lets himself feel his loss. I think that this is very important — just to internalize that there is indeed an emptiness now. And only after this can Avraham can start being in the world again.