Where is My Father's Soul?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
There is something that has been eating at me since my father's funeral. Immediately after the burial, everyone came to wish me and my family condolences, then after a few minutes, we all left the cemetery. For me this was the hardest moment of the whole day. I felt as if we were leaving my father behind all by himself. Was his soul lonely? Is it as hard for the dead to part from the living as it is for the living to part from the dead? Or has he moved on? What does Judaism say about the soul right after burial?
There is a striking parallel between a soul's journey to its place of rest in heaven, and the grieving process experienced by the mourners down here on earth. Both the departed soul and the loved ones left behind have to walk a slow and measured progression towards a new reality.
For seven days after a funeral, the family stay home in mourning, what is called sitting Shiva (Hebrew for the number seven). The kabbalists describe the departed soul during this time as being in a state of flux between the world of the living and the world of the dead. For that week, the soul commutes back and forth from the grave to the house of mourning and back again. It fluctuates, sometimes being in the home with the family, other times returning to the gravesite.
This explains the roller coaster of emotions often experienced by grieving relatives. At one moment they feel as if nothing has happened, as if their loved one is about to walk into the room. At the next moment the pain of loss hits, and they feel the void left by the death of their beloved. The pendulum of emotion is a reflection of the to and fro of the soul of the departed. The feeling that he may walk into the room is real, for his soul is there in the home. But then the soul leaves, and the sharp feeling of separation returns in its place.
On each day a part of the soul is left behind at the grave, and less of the soul returns to the home, until a week has passed, and the soul stops its commute. It then begins its journey upwards to higher realms. But a part of the soul always remains at the gravesite.
After your father's funeral, as the family was leaving the cemetery, you were not leaving your father's soul behind. His soul accompanied you home. Just as you could not let him go all at once, he could not leave you so suddenly either. The Jewish mourning process - seven intense days, thirty days of lesser intensity, and an entire year of subdued remembrance - is not only a way for you to gradually adjust to the new reality, it is a mirror image of the steps your father's soul takes towards reaching final rest.
So don't feel guilty as you slowly make your way back into life. It is a sign that your father's soul is finding peace. You will never leave him behind, and he will never leave you.