IX. Mourning Observances
Shiva / Seven days of mourning
In Hebrew, the word shiva means seven. When used in connection with mourning, it connotes the seven day period that commences the day of the funeral. During the shiva period, it is customary for mourners to refrain from ordinary pursuits and occupations and remain at home, except on Shabbat, festivals and the high holy days, when they attend synagogue services in order to recite kaddish with the congregation. Shiva provides the mourner an opportunity to begin working through grief, to be comforted and interact with good friends and loved ones. Most Reform Jews do not follow the customs of sitting on low stools and covering mirrors at the home of the bereaved during shiva.
Jewish tradition prescribes daily services at home (except for Shabbat and holidays) during the shiva period. When mourners are unable to go out to the community, the community comes to them. Members of our congregation follow a variety of practices in this regard. Most have at least one service, upon returning home from the interment or memorial service. Some hold services for three days. These services are available upon request and are conducted by one of our clergy or a knowledgeable member of the congregation. Please discuss your wishes with the officiating clergyperson. In keeping with the egalitarian principles of Reform Judaism, both men and women count toward a minyan of ten Jewish adults for these services. Reform custom allows for the recitation of kaddish even in the absence of a minyan. Prayerbooks are normally provided by the funeral home.
It is appropriate for friends and members of the congregation to visit the home of the bereaved following the burial during the shiva period. It is also a kindness to visit or call in the weeks and months after shiva, when the press of family and friends has begun to give way to loneliness and the full impact of the loss is felt. People are often not sure how to conduct themselves during such a visit. Here are some suggestions:
You may not be certain what to say. Jewish tradition encourages visitors to remain silent and wait until the mourner speaks first. There are no words to take away grief. Your presence is often more important than advice. Be willing to simply sit in silence, perhaps holding the mourner’s hand, sharing a smile, communicating your caring and concern without words.
Allow mourners the opportunity to talk about and express their feelings of loss and the pain of separation from a loved one. Do not attempt to change the subject or divert them from painful, angry or guilty thoughts. If they wish to cry, allow them to do so without discouragement. Tears are not a sign of weakness. They are a healthy, appropriate outlet for grief.
Listen. Ask questions that will allow the mourner to talk with you about their grief and their memories of the deceased. Shiva is an ideal time for reminiscing and reflecting on the life of the person who has died. Do not hesitate to talk about the deceased. Share your own stories and recollections. Memories are a precious gift to mourners.
Share your feelings. The paradox of grief is that the very person who would provide comfort in a time of emotional distress may be the one who has died. The person who would hug, hold and console the mourner is no longer available to do so. If you have a close relationship with the bereaved, do not hesitate to hold, hug or touch them as you would want them to do were the situation reversed.
Show your acceptance. Grief often makes people feel as if they are losing their minds; it makes them say and do things that are unusual for them. If you can accept them without passing judgment, you will communicate your unconditional care.
Offer help. Grief can make daily living a burden. During and following shiva, you can assist by providing meals, car pooling, shopping, running errands or helping the mourner obtain legal advice. Help them, but allow them to remain in charge of their own lives.
Be patient. Grief is a process of adapting to change rather than “recovering.” Be patient in allowing people to grieve and return to life after shiva. It often takes a year or more for a mourner to feel like himself or herself again. It can be difficult to be in the company of a person in acute emotional pain. Your patience and compassion will make a difference in their healing process.
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