By Sharon Begley, CNN • Updated 25th August 2020
Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, an internationally-renowned scholar on death and grief whose book “Thy Only Living Son,” helped demystify the concept, died Wednesday at his home in Boston. He was 96.
His death, announced by the academic Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, came six months after Grollman’s wife, Elinor, who published his books, died at the age of 88. They are survived by two sons, eight grandchildren and several step-grandchildren.
The cause of death was not immediately announced.
In a phone interview last May, Rabbi and Professor Grollman told CNN how, during World War II, when he was a graduate student, his father had moved the family to a warm coastal city in Nova Scotia because he’d lost his job in the the United States during the war.
“The city was beautiful, but much of the time we were so miserable we couldn’t think of much else,” Earl Grollman recalled.
He recalled that, as a young man, his father had sought to comfort his traumatized family by writing and distributing poems. These poems became “thy son,” a 1996 book Grollman published, which set out to demystify grief.
Linda Perez, who would work with Grollman when she was a member of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion’s Religion and Ethics Department, remembered in a statement that “it was his academic zeal for learning as a replacement for suffering that led him to research and to research.”
In an interview on CNN in 2009, Grollman said “thy son” is designed to help people who feel an intense sense of loss.
“This is an attempt to say, yes, you can find balance,” Grollman said. “It is just a word but the idea of wholeness.”
What is stress?
In one chapter, Earl Grollman writes of “the perplexity of stress,” comparing it to the confusion and at times panic that accompany an emotion called grieving.
“One is momentarily overwhelmed by the degree of upheaval and upheaval…. At one moment one has it all, at the next moment no more,” he writes, adding that, even in life, they find themselves unable to foresee what will happen next.
“We find ourselves alternately in a state of overflow and of sensitivity and sensitivity is always under attack,” Grollman writes.