My work on a recent story for the Heritage Florida Jewish News on the Jewish Pavilion’s Grief Support Group brought home to me an essential truth: Grief is one of the universal human experiences, yet each experience of grief is truly unique to the individual.
For this story, I interviewed Rabbi Mo Kaprow (shown in photo). He is a chaplain for VITAS Healthcare, an area hospice organization. A longtime member of our Central Florida Jewish community, with a very warm and gentle demeanor, Rabbi Kaprow counsels and provides pastoral care to Jewish patients of VITAS as they prepare to face their deaths, and to their families as they prepare to face bereavement. He also provides grief support to those surviving family members. The Jewish Pavilion’s Grief Support Group programs are provided through a partnership with VITAS, with Rabbi Kaprow as facilitator and guiding light.
I also spoke to two members of Orlando’s Jewish community who had participated in the 6-week sessions at different times within the past few years. Before that, both Howie Appel and Jane Edelstein had been deeply mourning losses, Howie of his wife of almost 40 years and Jane of her mother.
They had both initially been reluctant of sign up for the support groups because they couldn’t imagine how it could help them. They each told me in different ways that their grief had felt private and isolating, something they assumed they had to contend with on their own because it felt very unique to them and like something that nobody else could ever understand.
That’s a feeling I can relate to very well.
I had the misfortune to experience a devastating loss at a very young age. My father died at the age of 52, when I was 11 years old and my sister was 7. My mother was only 43 and faced with the daunting task of raising two young children while contending with the loss of her love and of the happy life they had made together.
Needless to say, none of us made the adjustment to our new way of life either quickly or easily. We had always been a very close-knit and loving family. My dad, Murray Levine, had been a warm and involved parent to my sister and me as well as an endearing and attentive husband to my mom. He was a truly charming man with a great sense of humor and a sharp intelligence. His arrival home after a day of work had always been a small occasion of celebration in our little household. He was the sweet and funny center of our world.
Now there was a gaping hole in our family that could never be filled. We soldiered on as best we could, but the grief was bitter, and it lasted a long, long time. It surfaced, unlooked for, at unexpected moments, and it affected the course of our lives in innumerable ways.
And we had almost no support. We were among the last few survivors of a small extended family, none of whom lived in our state. Some family friends did try, but nobody really knew what we needed, and they couldn’t have supplied it if they did.
What we probably needed most of all, and didn’t get, was some counseling to support us in our grief. There may very well have been some source for it in the Baltimore community, but if there was, we didn’t avail ourselves of it. We grieved together. And we grieved alone.
How fortunate for our Orlando Jewish community that anyone in need can have some help along the path of bereavement. The Jewish Grief Support Group is a free service that is open to any member of the community. The Jewish Pavilion partners with VITAS Healthcare to offer the winter and summer sessions, and Jewish Family Services offers a similar program with spring and fall sessions.
Both Howie and Jane told me that their participation in the Grief Support Groups had made an enormous difference in helping them to come to terms with their losses. They both strongly recommended that people who feel overwhelmed or isolated in their grieving, or who may simply want to talk about it with others who can understand and offer their support, should at least try the group out.
For more information on the Jewish Grief Support Groups, call The Jewish Pavilion at 407-678-9363.