I’m not OK. My kids are not OK. Isolation and fear have put us in a deep grief. But I’m trying to remind myself that doesn’t mean I’m a bad parent. It means the same thing a period of grief normally means: we’re allowing ourselves to feel.
This type of grief is new and scary, especially because the normal outlets for mourning and releasing grief are closed to us; in fact, their closure is the cause of the grief. I’m a rabbi. I’m a doer. It hurts when I can’t take some sort of close, personal action with those around me.
This past weekend was supposed to be our synagogue’s family camp weekend. A weekend my community, my family, and I look forward to every year. As the weekend drew near, my heart was hurting at the thought of not being together. An idea formed in my head that maybe we could run a virtual family camp, and we actually pulled it off. We used Zoom meetings for services and a couple of short sessions in combination with tons of activities families could do on their own. We included our traditional glow stick Havdalah and grown-up social time. We went on individual nature walks and posted pictures in a shared album and with a hashtag. I was stoked.
While it seemed to be mostly a success, it also backfired emotionally for me. Not only was it obviously not the same as real camp, it made me miss our friends more. At times it felt like I was painting on a happy face to trick myself into believing we (and everything) were OK.
But in reality, that’s a lie. I can’t call this OK. I’m tired, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, overworked, alone, smothered, scared, and anxious, and I can’t help feeling like I’m failing my kids and congregation, though I know I can’t fix everything.
We’re a family with two full-time working parents and two kids at the super needy ages of three and six. Our kids just want and deserve undivided attention. Our jobs expect us to continue to answer emails and Slack messages and be productive during the workday. Yes, they’re trying to be flexible, but we’re both working what feels like our 40-hour weeks every day in order to keep up. And why, for the love of everything, are there so many dishes?!
We are not OK, and we have to stop pretending we are. Ignoring or wishing away the grief doesn’t make it go away. Last night after the end of Shabbat and virtual family camp, both kids had epic meltdowns. After they finally got pajamas on and got into bed, I lay in bed with the six-year-old. I was there mostly to apologize for losing my cool. She looked utterly defeated, and I asked if she was OK. She shook her head no with giant tears in her sleepy eyes. I hugged her, and I said, “I’m not OK either. I miss friends and school. I miss going to shul. I miss putting down our tech. I hate wearing a mask when I’m with people. I’m scared and I’m sad. Are you, Baby?”
By this point she was crying hard and squeezing me so tight I could barely breathe. And this isn’t the snuggly one of my two children. I had worked so hard to create routine and stability for everyone that I hadn’t allowed room for the tears. I kept on my positive face and comforting persona to help others, but it turns out, we need to allow it out. The grief needs an outlet.
So I am proclaiming here: I am NOT OK, and that is OK. But I will be OK. We all will be. What we should do in the meantime is own our feelings. Let them out.
As an aside, I’m always here for you, and ready and willing to cry together just like I did with my daughter.
Awwww! That makes me miss YOU! Next time you do something online, lmk, and maybe I can join!!! Are you doing livestream on Shabbat?
Thanks for sharing your soul with us during this most challenging time. As I read through this I was concerned about the stress your tremendous burdens are putting on you. While we are all going through our unique difficulties, I know the role of rabbi under normal conditions exceeds what most of us are presently experiencing. In the past weeks I’ve marveled at all you’ve done. From Passover Seders to virtual camp. You, along with the clergy and staff of Neveh, have done an amazing job. But my sense is your creativity and drive to do so much, though a tremendous mitzvah for our community, far exceeded what we could reasonably expect. You’ve done wonders but ultimately it’s important for you to take care of yourself and your family. While my position in leadership does not give me the unilateral authority to ask you to do less, I’m there if you need an advocate.
I hope, in some small way, this can help to ease your burden.
Stephen Sirkin 15056 SE John Ashley Drive Clackamas, OR 97015 503-680-7006 (cell) firstname.lastname@example.org