The Importance of Shiva

My father passed away on EFeatured imagerev Pesach.  Needless to say, my favorite holiday was an exceptionally sad one.  We had no seders, but we observed the holiday.  Because of Pesach, shiva, the tradition of mourning, was delayed until the end of Passover.  This would have created an emotional hardship on my mom and myself, so we informally sat shiva all week.  Instead of paying a “shiva call,” people “paid their respects.”  We would begin formal shiva after the holiday ends for a few days since we sat all week.

We found that when people came to visit, it genuinely helped us.  We felt loved and comforted by their presence.  We didn’t dwell on my dad’s death.  We talked about good memories as well as some light hearted discussion.  People brought food, lots of food.  Food also helped comfort us.  In an electronic age, we received condolence cards, not emails.  It showed people cared.  We also received hundreds of Facebook expressions of care.  People also made charitable donations.  Their generosity was comforting and blessed others as well.  We appreciated it all, and it comforted us during a sad and horrible time.

What didn’t help was phone calls.  They seemed like an intrusion.  I know people care, but calling on the phone did us no good.  Relatives who called were effusive with emotion, but personally, I found phone calls to be draining.  Emotion was fine, but when they asked details about my father’s death, I really didn’t want to tell them.  I didn’t want to relive or revisit a painful sadness.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that people really don’t know what to say to grieving people.  Words of wisdom or philosophical concepts don’t help.  Half the time, people are looking to make themselves feel better.  Thats fine as long as they don’t try to do it at our expense.  The people who came didn’t ask, because they had to look us in the eye, and they had the presence of mind not to ask.  The people on the phone were the main perpetrators.  Even simple questions like,”how are you doing?” don’t help.  I was polite, but I didn’t want to talk about it.  They meant no harm, but they were no help and their questions only angered me.

The things that really helped us through this very painful time were personal visits and food.  There is no substitute for being there.  My friend and his wife flew from Colorado and spent a few days with us, just to be with us.  It meant so very much.  Another friend from California came to the funeral.  One evening, a dozen guys from my cigar club came out and had cigars with me.  Others came during the week and spent time with my mom or with me.  The fact that they showed up meant more than anything.  Others who lived far away sent food.  It helped make us remember that we are loved.  It comforted.

Our society brushes off shiva as “not necessary,” but on an emotional level, its a wonderful thing.  You don’t have to know what to say.  Just give a hug and be there.  Let people know you care about them.  It makes all the difference.  Oh.. and if you want to call, think twice about what you are going to say.

Anyone wishing to make a donation in my father’s memory, please do so at Www.chevrahumanitarian.org/donations

Thank you

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4 thoughts on “The Importance of Shiva

  1. I remember how awkward people felt when my brother committed suicide…some people avoided me like the plague, others said “sorry”, others just interacted with me and never brought it up as if nothing happened, this was a very painful time indeed.

    I remember walking out on your lanai and sitting down with you and the first thing I asked was how your father was doing, I am so sorry that I didn’t think about you and what you had been through all day and all week. Then I saw the weary look on your face and the sadness in your eyes…

    I have truly come to love you and your wonderful family Rabbi.

  2. Rabbi, blessings to you and yours and on your memories of your father. I thank you for the insight into how to properly sit shiva, and by extension, be there for others in pain due to loss or whatever. I am working to become a chaplain and pastor, and this information is a great gift. I pray for peace for you all as the days and weeks roll on.

  3. So very sorry for your great loss. May you find G D’s comfort and support during this time of sorrow both to you and your family.

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