Dr. Earl A. Grollman a pioneer in the field of crisis intervention, was rabbi of the Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, Massachusetts, for thirty-six years. A certified death educator and counselor, he was cited as "Hero of The Heartland" for his work
with the families and volunteers of the Oklahoma City bombing...
Rabbi Earl A. Grollman, a prolific writer on grief who became widely known for ministering to those mourning the death of loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and other times of loss, died on Oct. 15 at his home in Belmont, Mass.
He was 96.
His daughter, Sharon Grollman, said that the cause was congestive heart failure.
Rabbi Grollman was known nationally as an expert in the field of grief counseling, appearing on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and other television programs. He ministered to people of all faiths, encouraging frank
conversations about a topic that has often been taboo.
He wrote more than two dozen books about death and grieving, including “Living When a Loved One Has Died” (1977), “Straight Talk About Death for Teenagers: How to Cope With Losing Someone You Love” (1993) and “Your Aging Parents: Reflections
for Caregivers” (1997).
His work took him to all corners of the country. After a far-right militant bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, Rabbi Grollman flew in from Boston and made several presentations on dealing
with grief. He spoke at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in that city and met with survivors, family members and emergency medical workers.
“One touch of sorrow makes the whole world kin,” he told 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 led the Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, Mass., for 36 years before retiring in 1987, was in Vancouver, British Columbia, attending a conference on bereavement on Sept. 11, 2001, when planes hijacked by Islamist militants crashed
into 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 jetliner hijacked by the terrorists, United Airlines Flight 93, which was forced down into a field in
“I’m telling people that the most important part for all of us at the moment is to feel free to feel all the reactions and feelings that we are experiencing,” Rabbi Grollman was quoted as saying in The Vancouver Sun.
Indeed, he was a proponent of talking openly about dying and grief, something that came with difficulty for many people, he said. “Death has come out of the closet,” he told 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 willing to acknowledge that living is the leading cause of death, and
they want to talk about it.” He counseled mourners with his often-used adage “Grief is the price we pay for love.”
His appearance on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” in 1981, was focused on the effect of divorce on children, and his message to them was that their negative feelings about their parents’ separation were OK, that they were natural.
Jonathan Kraus, the current rabbi at the Belmont synagogue, outside Boston, said Rabbi Grollman’s work on children’s grief was an important part of his legacy. Rabbi Grollman, he said, understood that grief could be complicated for children but could
translate those issues into simple language.
“He had a capacity to make those ideas accessible without watering them down,” Rabbi Kraus said.
Earl Alan Grollman was born on July 3, 1925, in Baltimore to Gerson and Dorah (Steinbach) Grollman. His mother taught Hebrew school; his father sold books and postcards at the city’s port.
Earl became curious about grief at a young age. He recalled in an interview with Highmark Caring Place, an organization that helps young people deal with grief, that he had not been allowed to attend his grandmother’s funeral as a 14-year-old. The
prevailing sentiment at the time was that children had no business experiencing death.
He attended Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and was ordained in 1950. He became an assistant rabbi at Temple Israel in Boston and then the rabbi of Beth El Temple Center in Belmont in 1951.
At seminary, he said, he was not taught how to deal with death in a congregation, and this lack of communication about dying rankled him. After the death of a close friend, he wanted to counsel the bereaved family. But there were scant resources
available that discussed death and grief in detail, he said.
He published his first book on the topic, “Talking about Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child,” in 1970.
Rabbi Grollman married Netta Levinson in 1949. Along with his daughter, his wife survives him, as do their sons, David and Jonathan; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Another great-grandchild died in 2014. His brother, Jerome, who died in
2008, was also a rabbi and led the United Hebrew Congregation in St. Louis.
After Rabbi Grollman retired from Beth El to focus on writing and counseling, he returned there occasionally to recite the Yizkor, a memorial prayer for the dead, and regularly addressed the congregation into his 90s.
“Obsessing about death can lead to paralysis, while ignoring it can squander 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 meaningfully.”
By Emily Langer
November 9, 2021 at 11:28 p.m. EST
...Rabbi Grollman, who presided for more than 30 years over Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, Mass., embarked on his broader ministry in the early days of his career, when as a new rabbi he received a call from a congregant whose 12-year-old son had
drowned at a summer camp in Maine. Rabbi Grollman, at that time, had never entered a funeral home or seen a dead body.
“I was expected to give solace and comfort and consolation,” he said in a speech at Highmark Caring Place, a center in Pennsylvania that serves grieving children and their families. “I really didn’t know what I was doing. But that’s what I was
expected to do.”
In all his years of theological and rabbinical study, Rabbi Grollman had learned what prayers to say for the dead but little if anything about how a person dies. He discovered he was not alone in his ignorance. Doctors, he found, may know precisely how
the heart or lungs fail but little about what it means for life to end. Even the most well-intentioned people, at a loss for what to say to a mourner, often resort to platitudes.
“We fall back on cliches,” he told the Boston Globe. “Some clergy say, ‘It’s God’s will; God needed another angel in heaven.’ Somebody’s killed by a drunk driver because God needed another angel in heaven? All of these simplistic
statements push us away from people who are in pain.”
...Instead of engaging in what he described as “fairy tales and half-truths,” he encouraged adults to address death directly. The concept of heaven can be comforting but also, he noted, confusing; he said he met children who, having been told that a
loved one went to heaven, looked out an airplane window expecting to find the person in the clouds.
...“I’ve never discussed this,” he told the Globe in 1997, referring to his death, “but I hope that it would be in a way that my family won’t be horrified and have to revisit in their minds. I’d like it to be a peaceful kind of death, and I’
m in full faculty. I’m afraid I will be rendered paralyzed and no longer able to do what I’m able to do. I continue to move almost frantically, because I want to grow until I go. I need to feel that in some way I’m making a difference, and I feel
that people, in their pain, help me to focus my life on what’s important. I guess I need to be needed.”