Monday, October 12, 2009

Mourning and Returning to Work

[Haveil Havalim is here, at the inestimable Jack's Random Thoughts!]

I'm not sure what to do with this item; I'm putting it out here for your thoughts.

Bengals win for 'Coach Zim'
BALTIMORE -- Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers called Mike Zimmer "amazing."
Safety Chris Crocker said it was unbelievable how much his defensive coordinator showed he cared about the team just by showing up for Sunday's game.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis also carried a heavy heart and said there were no words to describe the emotion of what his team had just overcome.
It was yet another intriguing Sunday in "Bengaldom" as Cincinnati took sole possession of first place in the AFC North with a 17-14 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
The game marked the fifth consecutive thriller for the Bengals (4-1). But the big win was only a backdrop for the heartbreaking situation involving Zimmer, whose wife, Vikki, passed away late Thursday.
Zimmer certainly didn’t have to be in Baltimore Sunday.
According to Lewis, Zimmer went back and forth before choosing to travel with the team. The decision worked out well as Zimmer called a terrific game and the Bengals picked up their biggest win of the season.

I can't comment on this specific case, of course. I don't know the man; I don't know the circumstances of his wife's death; I don't know his culture; I don't know his devotion to, and relationship with, his team and his sport and his livelihood. In short, I don't know anything about this case, and I do know that people mourn differently, so I can't make any productive assessment.

More than that:
I can easily see that being with his team might provide the greatest consolation.
I can easily see that his wife might have asked, or even told him, to do this.
I can easily see that this might be a way to shift focus; perhaps his wife was ill for a long time, and this was his first chance to get away from that.
And it's not as though he was partying; he went to work, in an intense, focused environment.

But this practice - going to work, and in a sporting event (although: is it a 'sporting event' for the coaches?), just days after a spouse's death - just bothers me.

Maybe it's because I view the mourning period as being about more than consolation. Maybe it's because I view mourning as a religious experience. Maybe it's because I am a product of my own cultural milieu. Don't know.

What say you - not really about this case, but about mourning in general?


  1. I think that it is a murky situation. We have a family friend whose wife died two years ago. They were married for a bit more than 40 years, but had been dating since high school.

    He has been devastated by this and finds life to be miserable without her. Do we have the right as friends to tell him how to mourn or for how long.

  2. each mourns in his own wayimho.

    yet halacha sets max and min parameters. R'YBS said it shows emotions are not uncontrollable. what say you?


  3. Despite what halacha may say about mourning, it's still a highly personal thing. We require a seven day mourning period, except when we don't. A chag cuts short the 7-day period, because there is no "mourning" during a chag. We presume the aveilim will be able to control their emotions and not mourn a scant few days or hours after burial. Is there anyone who doubts that inside these people are still mourning? So if someone returns to work on the 8th day after a death that's perfectly fine, but not 3-4 days later. Why? No one is privy to what goes on inside of a person.

    My FIL was niftar eruv Pesach a few hours before yom tov. The leviyah was first on Chol Hamoed and shiva first began Motzoai Pesach. I can attest that you both can and cannot turn off the emotions when someone tells you you have to. There were some moments when the chag was "perfectly normal" and others where you could see my husband and MIL and BILs struggling.

    We will never know how or why this man's decision to coach a game (his job)so soon after his wife's death was made. Should we even be speculating about how someone handles their grief?

  4. Jack, ProfK-
    I agree that we don't have the right to tell him anything; that's why I was careful to say I am asking in general, and not about his circumstance.

    I believe emotions are controllable, and controlling them can be a good thing and is sometimes halachically mandated - but the price can be quite high.

  5. I agree (for myself), most of my friends do not (BTw- My father zll"hh was buried erev pesach - so I know of what I speak)

    Joel Rich