How to pay a Shiva call
We are not alone. This message of Judaism conveys about death and bereavement, were every law and every custom of Jewish mourning and has at its core the overwhelming motivation to surround the dying and the grieving with a supportive community. Some may say that facing death and grief elevates a person’s feeling of aloneness, the Jewish approach to this is to replace loss and grief with close interactions with family and friends.
Comforters are obligated to attend the needs of mourners, since the grieving family doing Shiva (seven days mourning following death) they should not prepare their meals, it’s the community’s responsibility to feed the family. People send food from caterers, some newspapers even carry ads for Shiva trays. With busy lives it is more convenient to uses these sources. But some still prefer the more traditional act of personally preparing and delivering the food. No liquor, candy or flowers are sent, donations to charity are more acceptable designated by the mourners, this is a better way to honor the deceased while comforting the mourning family.
One of the most important acts of condolence that a comforter can to to the family is to do a Shiva call. But those visiting a mourner’s home are not sure of the right behavior. Some are thinking more of themselves or more concern if they are doing the Shiva call properly. Some tend to say ask themselves what am I trying to do? Whom shall I comfort? At least he is not suffering. More and more people tend to comment more on themselves so they won’t have to deal with the mourner’s grief, rather than the mourner himself. The act of comforting a mourner is becoming a lost art, a lot of well wishers don’t know what to say or how to act, so some tend to say things hurtful rather than helpful, its becoming more festive rather than reflective.
Problem is more mourners and their families don’t know how to set an appropriate tone. Many have noticed that situations or calls like these are becoming get together parties, with lots of food, drinks, and chitchat. Alternatives should be practice more often like in some Shiva homes a prayer service or minyan is done, where the mourner says the kaddish or memorial prayer. And during the service the deceased is remembered through life stories and anecdotes.
Here are some guidelines when your decide to do a Shiva call.
- Decide when to visit, listen to announcements at the funeral services for times that allows guests to visit. Usually this is done after the funeral, around minyamin in the evenings and mornings or in the day. If you decide to visit on a different time or day, it proper to call ahead.
- Dress properly. Depending on were you are an informal dress would be appropriate. Some wear clothes as if they are attending a synagogue service.
- Wash your hands. Visiting immediately after the funeral, you will see a water basin and towels by the door. Its tradition that you should wash your hands after coming from the cemetery. Its a belief that contact with the dead renders a person impure.
- Just walk in. Don’t ring doorbells, no knocking, since the door will be left open or unlocked. This would eliminate the need to answer the door and constantly disrupt events happening beyond the door.
- Bring the food to the kitchen. If you are planning to bring food take it directly to the kitchen, no one will receive it so make sure to label or identify if its meat, dairy or pareve plus place your name on the container some the mourners will know from whom it came from.
- Find the mourners. Look for the mourners as soon as possible, just be silent offer a hug, a kiss, handshake or an arm around the shoulders, by doing this it would allow the mourners to open up a conversation. If you decide to say something, say words that would encourage to remember the deceased.
- Recall somthing personal. Remeber things that you consider a part of your life with the deceased, crying is a normal part of grieving and people will always tell you that you never get over a loss you only get used to it.
- Spend time. Give at least a few moments to 10 minutes with the mourners to give way to other who want to spend time with them, but if your the only visitor then spend as much time as you wish.
- Participate in services. If a prayer service is conducted, participate to as much extent you can. If you don’t know the service just sit or stand respectfully while in progress. If the rabbi ask for stories about the deceased don’t hesitate to share.
- Eat if invited, in some homes no food will be offered some after the funeral food may be offered but make sure that the mourners have already eaten before you approach the table. Normally guests are not expected to eat meals with the family during the Shiva.
- Talk to friends. You will encounter friends at the house of mourning, naturally you tend to talk, share stories or eat with them. Remember the purpose of the Shiva is to comfort the mourners. So keep the topic about the deceased and the relationships to the mourners. Avoid tasteless jokes, loud talk and gossip.
- Avoid staying too long. A visit should not be more than an hour, usually mourners are exhausted after the Shiva experience, so don’t overstay your welcome.
- Say goodbye. When you leave remember to wish the mourners good health, strength and other blessings. A formal farewell is a Hebrew phrase offered at grave sites and synagogues.
Jewish bereavement empowers the community to be God’s partner in comforting people in mourning. Making a shiva call the traditional way, and learning the art of coping with dying is learning an important aspect in the art of jewish living.
Alljewishlinks.com recommends Mourner’s KaddishBands.
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