There are weeks when my attention is more on CubeSpace, and there are weeks when my attention is more on the congregation (there are also weeks when my focus is more on knitting, but we won’t talk about that now). This is very much a “rabbinic week.” I am simultaneously preparing for the death of a congregant, a bar mitzvah and a wedding (the wedding isn’t actually members of the congregation, but definitely falls into the category of rabbinic work).
Moving between these three lifecycle events is a bit of a challenge. They, needless to say (and yet I’m going to say it anyway), have three very different moods, and the rabbinic role is different in all three. For a family awaiting a death, the rabbi is present to offer solace and comfort. For boys becoming bar mitzvah (it would also be true for girls, but in this case it happens to be boys), my role is more that of coach and teacher. For a couple about to be married, I serve as counselor and master of ceremonies, helping ensure that the wedding comes off as they want it to and that they are able to be focused on what matters when the day arrives.
Each of these three events are enormously important occasions in the history of their respective families. These are, literally, once in a lifetime events. It is vital that I bring an awareness of that to my conversations with families. At the same time, part of my role is to be able to say, “what you are feeling is normal,” based on the fact that I am in close contact with each of these events several times a year. I attend 5 – 10 weddings a year. Perhaps half as many funerals, and a far more variable number of bar or bat mitzvah celebrations. My role at these events is not that of the mourner, or the bride or groom, nor the young adult entering the Jewish community, but to be deeply empathetic with those people, and to lead them through it.
Which brings me back to this week. Trying to shift gears so quickly between joy and sadness is confusing. The one constant between events is that they are stressful. But I feel like I’m beginning to experience some emotional disjuntion. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a way that highlights the emotions of each events.
Being present at lifecyle events is one of the reasons I became a rabbi. It is one of the most rewarding parts of what I do. When multiple events coincide, as they have this week, the rewards are highlighted, but I’m also much more aware of the potential for becoming emotionally drained. I am not yet running on empty. I cannot imagine officiating at a funeral without grieving with the family, or a wedding without celebrating. The real question is, what do I look like the day after. I guess we’ll find out next week.