Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, 96, dies; Wanted to demystify death and mourning

Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, a prolific writer on mourning who has become widely known for his ministry to those mourning the deaths of loved ones in the 9/11 bombing of Oklahoma City in 1995 and other times of mourning, passed away October 15 at his home in Belmont, Mass. He was 96 years old.

Her daughter, Sharon Grollman, said the cause was congestive heart failure.

Rabbi Grollman was nationally known as an expert in the field of grief counseling, appearing on “Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood”, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and other television programs. He has ministered to people of all faiths, encouraging frank conversations on a subject that has often been taboo.

He has written over two dozen books on death and bereavement, including “Living When a Loved One is Dead” (1977), “Straight Talk About Death for Teenagers: How to Cope With Losing Someone You Love” (1993) and “Your Aging Parents: Thoughts for Caregivers” (1997).

His work has taken him to the four corners of the country. After a far-right activist bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in downtown Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, Rabbi Grollman arrived from Boston and made several presentations on the treatment of the mourning. He spoke at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in that city and met with survivors, family members and emergency medical workers.

“A touch of sorrow makes the whole world parent,” he said Recount The Daily Oklahoman in 1997, when he returned to the state to speak to emergency medical workers and others affected by the attack.

Rabbi Grollman, who ran the Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, Massachusetts, for 36 years before retiring in 1987, was in Vancouver, British Columbia, to attend a conference on 9/11 mourning. 2001, when planes hijacked by Islamist militants crashed. in the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He said a member of his former congregation was a passenger aboard the fourth airliner hijacked by terrorists, United Airlines Flight 93, which was forced to descend into a field in Shanksville, Pa.

“I tell people that the most important part for all of us right now is to feel free to feel whatever reactions and feelings we have,” Rabbi Grollman said in the Vancouver Sun.

Indeed, he was a supporter of speaking openly about death and mourning, something that came with difficulty for many people, he said. “Death came out of the closet,” he said Recount The New York Times in 1994.

“For so many years people thought that if they didn’t talk about it, death would go away,” he continued. “It was the immorality of mortality. But for the first time, people are ready to recognize that life is the leading cause of death, and they want to talk about it. He counseled people in mourning with his oft-used adage, “Grieving is the price we pay for love.”

Its appearance on “Monsieur Rogers’ neighborhood”, in 1981, was focusing on the effect of divorce on children, and its message to them was that their negative feelings about their parents’ separation were OK, that they were natural.

Jonathan Kraus, the current rabbi at Belmont Synagogue outside of Boston, said Rabbi Grollman’s work on mourning for children was an important part of his legacy. Rabbi Grollman, he said, understood that grieving could be complicated for children, but could translate these issues into plain language.

“He had the ability to make these ideas accessible without diluting them,” Rabbi Kraus said.

Earl Alan Grollman was born July 3, 1925 in Baltimore to Gerson and Dorah (Steinbach) Grollman. His mother taught in the Hebrew school; his father sold books and postcards at the city port.

Earl became curious about grief at a young age. He recalled in a maintenance with Highmark Caring Place, an organization that helps young people cope with grief, that he was not allowed to attend his grandmother’s funeral when he was 14. The prevailing feeling at the time was that children did not have to suffer death.

He attended Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and was ordained a priest in 1950. He became an assistant rabbi at Temple Israel in Boston, then rabbi of the Beth El Temple Center in Belmont in 1951.

In seminary, he said, he was not taught how to deal with death in a congregation, and this lack of communication about death angered him. After the death of a close friend, he wanted to counsel the bereaved family. But there were few resources available to discuss death and bereavement in detail, he said.

He published his first book on the subject, “Talking about Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child”, in 1970.

Rabbi Grollman married Netta Levinson in 1949. With his daughter, his wife survives him, as do their sons, David and Jonathan; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His brother, Jerome, who died in 2008, was also a rabbi and head of the United Hebrew Congregation in St. Louis.

After Rabbi Grollman retired from Beth El to focus on writing and counseling, he returned occasionally to recite the Yizkor, a memorial prayer for the dead, and spoke regularly to the congregation until his 90 years old.

“Being obsessed with death can lead to paralysis, while ignoring it can waste an opportunity,” he told The Times in 1994. “The important thing about death is the importance of life . Do what you have to do now. Live today in a meaningful way.

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