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15 Lessons from Shiva
Bring it Home. WRJ Bag. And how, in this kitchen, I admired him. My father touched all their lives. They shook my hand, expressed their condolences, and said how much they respected my dad. These living room walls were lined with impressionist paintings. Like these paintings, I now lived in the shadows of a blurred life. In this living room, on these couches, next to these paintings, my dad and I talked for hours.
He was a master storyteller — a male Scheherazade. We discussed wars, history, and how life was treating us. He told off-color jokes, and I laughed. I loved his sense of humor and he knew it. Those days and those laughs were now gone forever. He instructed the minyan to stand and face east.
He led us in prayer. After the rabbi left the villa, two elderly men cornered me in the vestibule. It definitely brought us closer together. Normally I work long hours, so to take off work meant a lot to my wife. She knew I was giving her my all. And our neighbors knew something was amiss when, the first day back from the New York burial, I was spotted at 10 a. Lesson 5: Write down the names of everyone who delivers a meal, does you a favor, watches the kids for an hour, anything.
It means a lot to people to be thanked, and my wife wanted to express her gratitude to all those who eased her loss. At first you think you will remember everyone, but then it becomes too overwhelming. Also, compile all letters and notes received. It makes for a comforting read months down the line. Lesson 6: When you come to visit, remember that it is for the benefit of the mourner.
This is the last place on earth you want to talk about yourself as interesting as you may be. It takes tremendous psychic energy for the mourner to entertain your ego. Also, never argue about anything with the mourner. Leave it at the door. At least wait till the shiva week is over. Lesson 7: When making a shiva call, don't expect food and entertainment.
The "deli platter concept" every evening is really not conducive to the shiva process. Just focus on the mourner, not your appetite. The coffee clutch that sometimes develops in the kitchen is just out of place with the mourner holding court in the living room. There should be only one conversation going on.
That is giving real honor to the deceased and the mourner. Obviously in other quarters of the house homework and other matters can be discussed as long as they are not heard. But it's not party time.
Lesson 8: It seems to me that anything less than a minute visit, unless you're the President of the United States or something like that, is too quick. God will forgive your time management goals this day, unless of course you left a child in the bath tub. And please, make sure to turn off your cell phone. Lesson 9: So what should you talk about?
Ask to see pictures of the deceased's life. Ask the mourner to describe the decease's finest hour. What will they want to have been remembered for? How will you remember them? Lesson Never assume the mourner has taken care of anything. They are spaced out and disoriented. I have literally seen mourners go without lunch because everyone thinks they are taken care of.
Don't assume that at all. Mourners are preoccupied. They may need shopping, errands, car pools, letters mailed, a phone call or three made, the dog walked, the baby diapered, etc. Who is doing the laundry and cleaning the floors and bathrooms? These are big jobs. Mourning is physically taxing and they are locked down with visitors.
Assume nothing was done. Don't ask "Do you need something? Better yet, do something and then ask, "Can I do anything else? Lesson Make sure someone is on hand to rearrange chairs, clean up, direct traffic, take deliveries, etc.
6 Things to Do for a Friend Who’s Sitting Shiva
Someone has to be the head referee and crowd controller. I walked everyone out and welcomed everyone in.
It helped create movement to keep the rotation flowing. It also helped those who felt self-conscious about entering and exiting. Lesson When the shiva period has ended, don't expect the mourner's relief to suddenly break forth or sadness to evaporate. That takes time. So when you see the mourner participating in the world again, treat them with care.