It has taken a while to understand why this topic seems difficult to respond to, yet impossible for me to ignore. My first instinct looking at the theme was, “I can’t do this; it’s too painful.” But after thinking about it more, I realize that I’ve actually been doing the work of Elul for the past 13 months, just under a different title, for the work of Elul and grief are strikingly similar. Surely, the sudden, unexpected death of my husband and the father of our four children last summer qualifies as an experience ripe for radical transformation.
Transforming from the inside out and the outside in is the essence of my work these days and nights, and can only be accomplished with a combination of deliberate effort and staying open to what is. Every moment has been, and continues to be, an opportunity to transform through the lens of my grief.
It’s difficult for me to separate the themes of the season’s liturgy, invoking the questions of who will live and who will die in a given year, with the season’s spiritual process of teshuvah, or heshbon hanefesh. So applying these concepts to the unimaginable, my husband’s sudden death, seems too painful to conceive. How do you do teshuvah as it relates to him, and to us, when our life together abruptly ended, leaving so many unanswered questions and so much unfinished work? As time passes, I hope this will take on a different tone. Last year’s Elul was too close to my husband’s death to be anything but surreal. Yet this year also seems painful to observe, but in a different way, having just recently passed through all the one-year markers.
The lesson seems to me that, as the years go by, and as the months of Elul come and go, there will always be new levels of teshuvah to be done. Even when a relationship might technically end, it remains dynamic, with new levels of teshuvah revealing themselves in ways that didn’t seem possible the year before. There will be repentance. There will be an accounting of the soul. There will be an opportunity to return to our authentic selves. I am grateful to BJ for helping me to better access our religion, which has, in turn, enabled me to do the work of ongoing transformation with increasing insight and a deeper connection to Jewish tradition.