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The members of the Jewish Funeral Directors of America (JFDA) offer this advice:
The Jewish funeral ritual is not only a time-honored tradition designed to take leave of the dead in a sensitive and dignified way, but also the foundation on which the process of mourning is built.
The chapel service provides the necessary environment for family and friends to share their grief, to confront the realities of death, to celebrate the achievements of life.
Recognizing the importance of the mourners to be surrounded by family and friends, Jewish tradition deems attending both the funeral and burial services to be a mitzvah, a religious obligation.
For this reason we are required, whenever possible, to accompany the dead to the cemetery and to participate in the burial.
Like all other Jewish mourning rituals, the Shiva takes place within the context of community. All prayers are recited within a minyan, a quorum of ten adults, and throughout the shiva period, friends and family visit to offer support and condolences.The paradox of the shiva is that while the family can withdraw from the community, the community cannot withdraw from the family. This reminds the mourner that there are others who truly care.
People are often uncertain about what to say to the mourner.Jewish tradition encourages that visitors remain silent and wait until the mourner speaks first. Often silence can be very healing and soothing to those in deep emotional pain. Be willing to simply sit in silence, perhaps holding the mourner’s hand, sharing a smile, communicating without words your concern and caring.
There are no words to take away grief so it is best just to listen. Your presence and acceptance is often more important than your advice.
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 topic or divert mourners from speaking about their painful feelings.If they wish to cry, allow them to do so, and do not attempt to stop the tears with statements like “be strong” Tears are not a sign of weakness; they are simply an indication of grief, and the funeral, shiva, and subsequent mourning periods are the time of grief.
Ask questions that will allow the mourner to talk with you about their grief. The Shiva is the ideal time for reminiscing and reflecting on the life of the person who has recently died.Do not hesitate to talk about the deceased whose memory is very much alive in the hearts and minds of loved ones. Share your own stories and recollections.This is a good time to bring out family photographs which evoke many pleasant moments of the past. Memories are treasures for the mourners who long for the dead person.
If you are feeling sad, share your tears.If you see humour in a certain memory, laugh. Laughter is a good way to regain energy, but do not use it as a distraction or to undermine the importance of grieving.
The paradox of being in mourning is that often the very person, who would provide comfort in such a time of emotional distress, is the very person who is so badly missed. The person who would hug, hold and console the mourner is no longer available and neither are the hugs. If you have a close relationship with the bereaved, do not hesitate to hold, hug, or at least touch them. Holding helps an individual feel temporarily safe and secure; a touch can be worth more than words.
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 that you care about them unconditionally.
Grief can make daily living a burden.During and following Shiva, you can assist by providing meals, organizing a minyan, car pooling, grocery shopping, or helping the mourner seek legal advice. Help them, but allow them to remain in charge of their own lives.
If you take on their responsibilities, they are left with less of a reason to carry on.
Grief is a process of adapting to change rather than recovering. Be patient in allowing relatives or friends to get over their grief after Shiva. Jewish tradition prescribes saying Kaddish for the deceased for up to eleven months and it usually takes at least that long for a mourner to feel like himself or herself again. At times it can be difficult to be in company of a person who is experiencing acute emotional pain. However, in the face of suffering, your patience and compassion will make a difference in their healing process.
Grieving doesn't always end with the funeral: subscribe to our daily grief support email, designed to help you a little bit every day, by filling out the form below.
Those grieving are in great need of support. If a close friend has recently experienced a loss, fill out the form below to subscribe to our weekly tips and find out how you can be most helpful.