Shiva: a Time for Grief, and Healing

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Our Jewish traditions offer a deeply meaningful way to walk the mourner's path – a walk that is part of life.

What is shiva? After a funeral, mourners of a parent, sibling, spouse or child stay at home until the morning of the seventh day and are fed, nurtured and cared for by friends, neighbors and members of the community. Usually a mourner does not go out, go to work, or do anything in public so that the time necessary for personal grief is not interrupted by having to put on a "public face." The word "shiva" means "seven" in Hebrew.

This seven-day period of mourning gives the person in mourning time to come to grips with the reality of the loss and grieve. it is an emotionally and spiritually intense time, a time for deep sorrow and also comfort and healing, in which the mourner is most closely supported by family and friends. Memories are shared and the life-wisdom of the deceased is honored.

It is a vital and important part of being in spiritual community for non-mourners to visit the mourner during the week of shiva.

Visitors are there to lovingly listen.

A shiva call is not time for chatting nor it it a social visit.

It is an opportunity to listen and focus on memories – and generally visitors should respond rather than initiate conversation.

Family and friends can bring food to those in mourning. You will see that typically mirrors in the home are covered and a memorial candle is lit. Some mourners will refrain from wearing leather shoes, bathing, cutting their hair, shaving or changing clothes. Shiva practices are paused during Shabbos or Yuntif and continue again afterwards.

There are many normative traditions around sitting shiva, though each shiva experience is unique because of the unique needs of the mourners and the context of their lives. Guests should have a high level of sensitivity and willingness to respond with love and compassion, to be helpful and generous.

Blessings, Rabbi Marcia

 

Additional articles and details about shiva and Jewish customs that assist us in mourning are available online:

Aish.com - The ABCs of Death & Mourning

MyJewishLearning.com - How to Make a Shiva Call