That meant for two whole weeks, none of her other children could sit shiva for her, or say kaddish for her, or observe the other laws of mourning.
I didn’t know any of this, of course. All I knew was that on May 9th, I started to feel pretty awful and my eyes started to go very weak and blurry. From that day on, I started to lose my joie de vivre and energy in just about every area of life.
My head was full of fog and brain-fuzz; physically, I had no energy and a bunch of weird aches and pains, on top of my eye that was worsening by the day. Emotionally, I got into a really weird, yucky place where I felt like I’d lost all interest in my life.
I didn’t want to type anything, share anything, speak to anyone, cook anything, do anything. My life suddenly felt completely pointless and empty. I started to feel like I was half-dead.
Now, I’ve had ‘depressed times’ before, but this was something else entirely, because I didn’t feel depressed. I just felt like I wasn’t really ‘here’ anymore, and nothing I did counted for anything as a result.
None of my usual holistic health treatments, that usually work a treat to help clear up this stuff, was helping me feel even a tiny bit better. I did one six hour session last week, which seemed to help a bit, temporarily, then I felt even worse again.
I started to get really worried - what the heck was going on?!!?!? I put in a question to Rav Berland about my eye, but in the meantime, I was feeling more and more awful with each passing day.
So, last Wednesday I woke up feeling so bad, I decided I had to do another six hour session, devoted to getting to the bottom of what was causing my alarming health issues, especially my eye.
Very shortly after I finished that session, the eccentric relative finally decided to phone one of their siblings, and tell them that they’d buried Savta two weeks’ ago, without telling anyone. That sibling emailed around, and I got the news Thursday morning.
To cut a very long story short, after the shock wore off I realized that I’d been picking up spiritual vibes from my dead grandmother’s unhappy soul for the past fortnight - and it stunned me. I wasn’t very close to her, and we didn’t share a language in common, yet the way she died, un-mourned, still made me feel absolutely awful in just about every way, for two weeks.
On Friday, I went and tracked down her grave, lit some candles, said my goodbyes properly, and started to feel a whole lot better.
The whole crazy situation has given me a whole bunch of food for thought, but the main things, in random order, are as follows:
- When souls aren’t buried, or mourned-for appropriately, that gives them tremendous suffering - my grandmother had a kosher burial with a minyan, and kept at least the basic mitzvot, yet I can only imagine how bad her soul must have been feeling for me to have been picking up those vibes so strongly as a very distant grandchild.
- When people aren’t properly grieved for, or dealt with in an halachically-correct way, that brings huge problems on their living relatives - it wasn’t my fault I didn’t get to go to my grandmother’s funeral, or to learn mishnayot for her, or light candles for two weeks, but I was still suffering pretty badly from the situation.
- When a soul has ‘unfinished business’, that can literally make the living relatives start to fall apart. I felt completely awful across all levels of body, mind and soul for a fortnight, and the cause was 100% spiritual. It really makes me wonder how much of the mental health issues, and ‘unsolvable’ health issues other people are walking around with are also 100% rooted in unfinished spiritual business, too.
- When someone fails to sit shiva for a person they are obliged to do so for, by halacha, or worse, when they actually go and cremate them, or autopsy them, or bury them in non-Jewish cemeteries, not only are they causing the soul of their relative untold suffering, they are also bringing untold suffering down on themselves, too.
All of those things cause ‘unfinished spiritual business’ that can reverberate down the generations.
And that’s not all. When people die and we’re still fighting with them, or hating them, or resenting them, that unfinished business doesn’t only cause the dead person’s soul to suffer, it weighs just heavily on us, the living.
When we don’t mark a close relative’s yahrtzeit, or don’t speak of them lovingly (maybe, because we really don’t have much we can say…), that also leads to unfinished spiritual business, which in turn can cause no end of mental and physical health problems to US, the people who are still alive.
There’s a bunch more that could be said on this subject, but this post is weird enough, I think.
The take home message is this: As frum Jews, we have an obligation to start taking the spiritual realm - and its impact on our health, and state of mind - far more seriously.
Non-Jewish psychiatry doesn’t take any of this stuff seriously (the opposite - it’ll accuse you of being a schizophrenic if you dare admit you talk to God every day…)
Non-Jewish medicine doesn’t take any of this stuff seriously, either, which is why there are so many problems and illnesses it can’t resolve, no matter how many pills you take or operations you end up having.
There is a very strong SPIRITUAL dimension impacting every area of our life. And as orthodox Jews, we have a responsibility to start recognizing it, and dealing with it appropriately.
God is real. Souls are real. And the spiritual cause and effect that is actually guiding our lives is only going to become more and more obvious, the nearer we get to Moshiach.