Loss and Mourning

loss and mourning

Last week, Christy Svanemyr, a beautiful soul and very respected colleague was killed in a tragic accident in San Francisco. She died leaving a whole community who loved her mourning. But what touches me so deeply is that she also leaves behind her husband and 1 year-old daughter.

The scale of that kind of loss in her family’s life, in her daughter’s life, leaves me speechless and heartbroken. It happened on the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year is traditionally the time when Jews around the world pray to be written and sealed in the book of life (who will live another year.)

The tragedy, mingled with praying for life for the coming year, has created a magnifying lens for me to see and feel how very much I do want to live this next year. How much I want to continue to watch my children grow up, to make new family memories, to learn, even to grow older and feel creakier.

I can’t find meaning in Christy’s death. I don’t believe there could ever be a master plan where a loving, radiant 35-year old mom is suddenly killed. I can’t imagine a world where that “needed” to happen.

All I can do is be part of a community that mourns that loss – feels it deeply – and I can not ignore the wake-up call to pay attention in my own life. I know that even as you read these words, that my deep sadness won’t be your wake-up call. It’s hard to hear someone else’s alarm with all the walls that separate us these days.

I have only two hopes in writing this. One, that someone reading it, might just  hear their own signals, even the quieter ones, and pay closer attention. And two, that this writing becomes not just a wish, but a promise to myself: I will recognize the reverberation of sadness in my heart as a call towards greater mindfulness and gratitude in my own life

Can you help? If you’ve ever been in mourning, or are even grieving now – what thoughts/ideas/practices have helped you?

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.


  1. Michal Spiegelman on September 19, 2013 at 8:22 am

    Dear Jo, It is so understandable that you can’t find a meaning in Christy’s death. It is hard to understand and to accept such a terrible tragedy. Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” write in the book: “Is there an answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people?…The response would be…to forgive the world for not being perfect, to forgive God for not making a better world, to reach out to the people around us, and to go on living despite it all…no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened.”
    Allow yourself to be human, my dear. Be sad. cry. and when the right moment comes, do what Christy would love you to do: live life to the fullest. Thank you for opening your heart and sharing. You make a difference in the world by doing that.

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