This poem was written after hearing the tragic news about the sudden death of the child of dear friends and colleagues. Their lives were suddenly and irrevocably changed as they were thrust into intense grief and loss. The phrase, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of death,” found in Psalm 23 has always evoked images of a journey of grief. The mourning process helps us to walk through the Valley, not to be stuck in it. For some the journey is longer and more painful than for others. Most of us are unprepared for the shock of a tragic loss. We do not walk alone, however. We are accompanied both by those who travelled before us and those who hold us up along our painful journey.
For Danny, Elyse and Devra z”l
גם כי אילך בגאי צלמוות
Those who walk through the Valley of Shadows wear no shoes.
Their feet are cut and torn as they stumble through the darkness.
With no time to pack a bag or say goodbye, they begin their journeys unprepared.
Some are dressed in finery: jewels gleaming like stars in the dim light.
Others are in pajamas, work clothes, prayer shawls or bathing suits.
Some clutch briefcases, papers, blankets or teddy bears.
And everyone wears their grief.
With each cautious, painful step, they move further into the abyss.
The chasm narrows.
Stretching out their fingers they trace the grooves carved by previous pilgrims
– handholds hewn into the cold canyon walls.
Sometimes they march in silence.
Other times, singing hauntingly beautiful melodies, their voices echo to the very vaults of heaven.
The river that created this place does not flow from on high:
It was formed and filled by the tears of those whose bruised souls traversed the trail.
No one walks here alone:
Stumbling pilgrims are quickly caught and held aloft by those who travel beside them –
They are caressed and carried through the brambles and branches that, unexposed and hidden from sight, add to the chaos and confusion of the journey.
In time (for some) a light appears in the distance – piercing through the veil of darkness.
Hope – long buried, rises to the surface like a beacon
And with it, the weary marchers ascend to find a world that has been changed forever by their absence.
They return with pale faces and broken hearts.
But now, as experienced travelers, they will always have a suitcase packed and ready.
Rabbi Joe Black serves Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado.