Grieving in these suffocating times-by Rabbi Lee.

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Today Romford synagogue’s Rabbi Lee writes in the Havering Daily about the difficulties the community has faced grieving for loved ones with the restrictions in place.

On the 24 April, l learned that a very dear colleague had passed away- as the result of COVID–the previous day and was to be buried that afternoon. 
Lockdown restrictions and my own busy schedule in a different cemetery meant l would not be able to attend his funeral. Like thousands of his family, friends, colleagues and parishioners, l was prevented from last respects to a lovely, sweet devoted human being, who touched people’s lives like few clergy can. I burst into tears of uncontrollable sobbing, l phoned my two most trusted friends for a shoulder to cry on (well even a Rabbi needs someone to turn to). But the grief and the lack of a bereavement process stabbed at my sorrowful heart. 

Last night l received a phone call telling me to switch to BBC2 as there’s was a documentary about hospitals dealing with COVID patients, showing a Jewish patient called Stanley it might be your friend!’

Alas, shock, horror it was! I was watching a documentary of my dearly beloved colleague die.! I was fixated it was a most painful shock but l couldn’t switch off. I had to watch! 

How shocking it was to see the smiling man with the beautiful voice struggle to breath and talk. And l knew we would only see what would be allowed to be filmed and what would pass the censors. 

Watching his dignity and stoicism, and that of his dear wife who was interviewed and taking us through her journey, l felt a sense of pride in them both. Seeing photos of Stanley as a healthier man brought a weird sense of pleasure to my heart. 

But the programme ended with his passing and his picture and the dates of his birth and death. And with it more rears and distress and calls to my trusted friends. 

The next day l spoke to a colleague whom l know would have been watching. His family too shed bucket loads of tears but had nothing but respect for Stanley and his wife. I wondered how many people would have been watching. Thousands who would have been deprived of paying their last respects to a leader they loved and respected. 

On reflection here we all where, in a very strange setting but doing just that. Having an opportunity to see Stanley and to cry for his loss. To witness the dignity with which he faced the terrible plague that would claim his life. And even if only to each other at home to express the love and respect they shared, to cry the tears of loss at the sight of him. To admire his wonderful widow for the dignity with which she faced this terrible loss. 

In hindsight, l felt a sense of relief. We all had, in some small part, an opportunity to grieve. I felt better. 

The questions as to why Rabbi Stanley Michaels, one of my finest colleagues was taken by this plague when he was otherwise so fit, will never be answered. I can but admire him more than ever having seen a little of his struggle at first hand. I can only remember him with more fondness and respect. I can only satisfy myself with the knowledge that his family, the wonderful NHS staff and all of us have done the best we possibly could to help him and honour him and let that bring a little comfort to our broken hearts. 

We can never understand why. We can never bring him back. But we can satisfy ourselves we gave him the best we could and much as it will never be enough we did not let him or ourselves down. May all who have been taken by this terrible plague rest in peace and may all who have suffered loss be comforted. 

In memory of Rabbi Stanley Michaels and Mr John Manuel whose loss we mourn among all who have passed as a result of Covid-19

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