From the desk of Rabbi Leonard (Yehuda) Blank MS, BCC ***
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud Harabbonim
917 – 446-2126
May 13, 21


Dedicated to my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom Hakohen A”H

For more than a year, I have shared with my readership what life is like through my lens. The lens of a husband whose wife was diagnosed with a life threatening, and a life limiting cancer during her last stages of her illness, through her death and the days thereafter. I have shared my journey of grief and bereavement, my ups and my downs, my days of questioning, of challenges, of sadness, of lock down, of isolation due to the Coronavirus, the loneliness, and the emptiness. The days of laughter and the days and nights of sadness. Most of all, how I have been able not just to function, to be part of life, community, continue to be productive and be a source of inspiration to others in their times of need. I have received many praises, compliments, and requests to be their source of inspiration and comfort. I have received communications from others how it was possible under the circumstances together with the lockdown and other Coronavirus restrictions to have been able to be productive and upbeat. I have received requests how they too could be successful while being caregivers especially after losing someone so dear to me. How did I keep from the pits of sadness and even depression was a frequent question, or I would say amazement that I did not succumb to such difficult levels? It was especially significant that my wife and I had such a meaningful and loving life together. So many commented that we had a fairy tale marriage, but it was for real. Just thinking and remembering all the tender loving caring moments brings me tears every so often. But those tears have been reduced through my meaningful journey through the tunnel of darkness to the end of that tunnel to the brightness of the sun. It is not impossible to have a meaningful and successful journey. I highly recommend seeking professional guidance when necessary and not to be ashamed to seek that help- even if but for a short while. Having friends, relatives and mentors can do wonders. However, when feeling down and under sometimes can make a person vulnerable to those who might mean well, but will give unneeded, unwanted, and sometimes not appropriate advice. A person should never feel he or she can do it alone. We all need someone for support. I am grateful for not receiving inappropriate advice, but it does happen. It is not uncommon when children meaning well will try to give or even insist on giving advice regarding personal even, financial issues. Being vulnerable can lead to uncomfortable relationships. Seek advice from those who one can trust, not be intrusive nor overbearing. I have heard many unfortunate situations through the years, with even clergy giving advice or counseling they are not knowledgeable in. Not every rabbi has the knowledge, the wisdom or even the training of giving sound and meaningful advice. I personally have been blessed with wonderful and supportive family, but I have also made many parts of my journey using my own “journey travel arrangements” seeking advice on my own terms and in my own directions, seeking support as needed from those who I felt could bring me the support I needed and when I needed it. Bereavement takes time. It cannot be rushed, and no two people have the same needs, “journey travel arrangements”. Boruch H, I have had wonderful family and friends as well as Dr. Blumenthal on several occasions, who really made the difference in my journey. There are many books on bereavement, but I have found solace from what might seem like a simple booklet but was quite helpful. It is “When You Are Grieving- A Guide to Understanding Loss” from MJHS Hospice. Though, I often used it when working at MJHS Hospice, I never realized how helpful it would one day be for me. MJHS also has a bereavement department which I collaborated with on many occasions while working with them at MJHS.

This past Sunday was the hakamas hamatzeiva for my wife. All the children of the Bradey Bunch plus one, many of their children, grand children, and other family members attended. We all had tears flowing some little flow, some more and some very private tears down the cheeks. For me having helped facilitate the service, kept me astute, but not for long. When it was my turn to speak and recite some tefilos, my emotions and my tears could not be held back. I was able to return my composure and my response, my actions and my tears were to be expected. It is still difficult to accept that my wife, our children’ mother, Bubby and so on is no longer with us physically, but she is spiritually and her love we will all have. After all the tefilos, speeches, and many holding on to each other, blessings were given for the future and her future was to always shine upon us and for us not just to continue with life, but to be productive, to be successful with good hearts and have many simchos and maysim tovim.

What about the unchartered courses one can or should take after the official and unofficial mourning period is over for a spouse a widow or widower. My official mourning period according to halacha was the sheloshim. But unofficially, it has been for a full year. I was not responsible for any aveilis any types of mourning after the sheloshim. But there were times I did not want to end aveilis. Though, I made sure not to add chumras nor make new self-imposed restrictions, in my heart the sadness of her loss, the emptiness remained, but the opportunities of self care, of having an enriched life has been there for the taking. I therefore have been taking and accepting those opportunities which has helped fill that vacuum of emptiness and filling it with meaningful days and nights. The legacy of my wife will remain forever in the hearts of all those who loved her and who she loved, but more than that, her spirit or I should really say her neshama lives on in Gan Eiden in Hawolam Habaw. Her memory, her life’s accomplishments, the remarkable  impact she had on so many lives will remain forever. She will always remain a role model which her grandchildren have already been following as well as countless of individuals who felt she was their role model too. Knowing fully through the words she shared with me and all the children to continue to lead successful and meaningful lives after her death is a task, we are all undertaking. She was very clear in her desire for all of us not only to continue with life, but to do so without sadness being kind to ourselves and to each other. That is something to think about- being concerned for others even during challenging times and a future she understood will be. She was so unselfish, always putting the well being of her family and others before herself. This coming Shavuos all family members will be doing their remembrance of my wife, mother, Bubby etc. through their Torah learning and many mitzvos. I am sponsoring the learning night at the MTJ Yeshiva and the Bialystoker Synagogue and giving a presentation at the Bialystoker Synagogue about my wife followed with cheese danishes for all to enjoy in her memory. I will share some additional thoughts about Shavuos in the next article after the Yom Tov. A special family siyum will be held with reflections of Keila Lutza bas Shalom Hakohen the night after Shavuos. A grandson’s bar mitzva will take place after all the memorials have finally taken place the following week- symbolic of beginning anew with a joyous and happy occasion just as she would have wanted.

I am still cautious. However, I have used NYC buses, gone to functions, shopping where I would never had gone beforehand and seeking new horizons. I am joining the world and the new “freedom” is exhilarating. It is interesting that I walk the sidewalks without wearing a mask and yet in my neighborhood almost everyone is wearing one when walking, running, riding their bicycles etc. Mask wearing is required in the public spaces and elevators in the apartment building I reside in except apartments and the building parks. Most stores require mask wearing and social distancing. The shul I daven in still has mask and social distancing required, but I am sure will change as time goes on. Shabbos is a challenge. Entering my building or until leaving the building mask wearing is required. I enjoy walking without the mask and there is no place in my building I can leave my mask until I return. I therefore must wear the mask to and from shul on Shabbos. Wearing the mask under my chin or under my hat is not an option on Shabbos. For the many who chose not to request the security department to assist with using the elevator on Shabbos, the return of the preprogramed auto Shabbos elevator was a welcome sigh. The elevator is a tremendous help making going to shul or the park so much nicer. We have Shabbos observant residents who moved into apartments years ago when an apartment became available even on very high floors. Due to COVID the Shabbos Elevator was discontinued as two elevators were thought to be necessary to prevent people congregating in one spot. When CORONA started spreading it was felt not to keep waiting for an elevator more than a few people at a time.

Below is a poem I received from one of the respected supervisors of the MJHS bereavement department sent to me not long after the death of my wife and I too found this helpful, However, I have changed some of the words as you will see.

by Jamey Wysocki
I {am learning} have learnt how to live
In a new way
Since that day
You were taken away.

I {am learning} have learnt how to live
With the things left unsaid
Knowing I got to say them
With every tear that I shed.

I {am learning} have learnt to live
By embracing the pain
Knowing that you live on
Through the memories that remain.

I {am learning} have learnt how to live
Knowing I will never again see your face
And I have peace knowing
You’re in a better place.

I {am learning} have learnt how to live
Knowing you’re in G’s care
It gives me the strength to move on
And makes the pain much easier to bear.

May my wife be a malitza yeshara for myself, my family and for Klal Yisrael. May all those who need a refuah have one quickly. May there be peace – shalom al Yisrael. May all those seeking specific simcha type brachos be blessed with all your needs. May we be zoche the coming of Moshiach Tzedkeinu the Geula Sheleim Bekarov Venomar Amain. Thank you. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank