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Feeling the Heat: A Story of Grief and Healing

Originally published in proFmagazine, July 10, 2017.

Although we know that grief doesn’t resolve itself in the span of three weeks away from home, beginning the process in profound heat seems to have helped us “sweat it out” in some way.

I never thought I would be here. It’s funny how quickly things can change. And when tragedy strikes, one has to be ready to respond – but also to go with the flow.

This is how I ended up in the Middle East in July – when the heat is heavy and unforgiving. A tragic event and the loss of a young life required my professional response, as well as my personal support. As a higher education professional responsible for young lives, I had always hoped that we would never have to manage the tragic loss of a student. We were prepared, as we had to be, but always in the hope that the time would never come.

Unfortunately, it did. My team and I jumped into action, but for me the situation was complicated in that the student we lost was also very close to my daughter. Knowing the young student we lost made a very painful situation all the more difficult, but I had to stay focused – on managing the crisis, on providing support to the student’s family, and on helping my daughter through her pain and anguish. You dread the day it happens: when your child loses her youth and innocence because she must face the very adult realities the world inevitably provides. But dread or not, that time ultimately comes.

As my daughter and I spent the next two weeks grieving, waiting, traveling, and grieving even more, I asked her what she would like to do after the funeral services were complete and it was time to take the next step toward healing. She and I both felt a need to get away, but I was a bit surprised by where she wanted to go: Israel. I had visited the country for a short work trip before, but my daughter hadn’t been; yet she had a keen fascination with the area. I booked the tickets, reserved an apartment, and we took off – just like that – for a three-week hiatus in the Middle East.

Little did we know just how hot the weather would be. The kind of heat you feel in this region in the month of July is really indescribable. But rather than shy away from it, staying indoors where the air-conditioning provides relief, we have embraced the heat. We have donned our absorbent summer attire and poured ourselves into the hot and humid outdoor sauna that exists where desert meets sea. And surprisingly, in doing so, we have learned a thing or two about the heat’s healing nature.

Of course, human beings have known the physical healing properties of heat for as long as we have had physical pain. Muscle soreness, joint pain, general inflammation, menstrual cramps – you name it, there is a heat therapy for it. There is a reason why we enjoy treatments such as saunas, hot tubs, heating pads, icy hot rubs, hot water bottles and hot yoga. These experiences help us to alleviate pain beneath the surface, rejuvenate our muscles, and sweat out toxins, and they also provide an opportunity to rehydrate and recover. Those who have experienced sweat lodges describe the mental and emotional benefits of heavy and healing heat as well. I now know what they mean.

While the heat in this region is oppressive, it has also provided an opportunity to feel – really feel our bodies – and to not care about anything other than caring for our bodies, physically, mentally, and emotionally. We have walked about viewing the ancient (and modern) sites of the land so many strive to visit – the old city of Jaffa, the HaCarmel Market, the seaside boardwalk – sweating like we have never sweated before, all the while sharing stories about the person we have lost and letting our grief flow.

Although we know that grief doesn’t resolve itself in the span of three weeks away, beginning the process in profound heat seems to have helped us “sweat it out” in some way. The heat has been strangely welcome, and an unexpected form of healing. The time to return home will come soon enough – and the hot temperatures will certainly endure for the rest of the summer, as will the grief. But in the afterglow of this brief desert sojourn, we won’t be as hesitant to face it, perhaps, as we might have been before.


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