What has also helped in coping with Mom’s death is the process of Shiva and Sheloshim, the first 7 days of loss followed by the remaining 23 days comprising a month, to sort out as much as we can…to process the reality that Mom will no longer be with us in a physical way.
Shiva has changed since Dad died in November 1983. We sat Shiva at my parents’ house. People visited each day from late morning through the evening, some timing it for the evening service, others sitting with us during the day as we swapped memories and stories of Dad. We learned so much about him. The process was simultaneously exhausting and uplifting as the warmth and comfort of the community took up residence in our home.
27 years later, many of the people who visited are gone, and so is the way they participated in Shiva. The first 2 days we did Shiva for Mom at my sister’s in Orinda. It was a special time for family to sit and dwell in our new reality and dwell in the experience together. As much as I was surprised that we had no visitors during the day, it went well as precious family time, even if the opportunity was unexpected. The fact that we had to scramble for a minyan the first night in Orinda seemed testimony to the power of the 8th night of Chanukah, prime family time.
Only the following day and evening did I fully realize how much had changed from Shiva for Dad. Admittedly Dad was a rabbi and mom was his wife, so the constituency is different, compounded by the years that have passed.
When the venue shifted to Marin, I saw more fully how Shiva customs, at least in the non orthodox community, had taken on a life very different from the way it used to be i.e. that each day, throughout the day, is an opportunity to visit and comfort mourners. One poignant moment was when friends from Kol Shofar came over in the afternoon and apologized for coming then and not for the evening service. I assured them that, on the contrary, I was most pleased they came when they did since they were the first visitors I had that day. In Marin, the numbers visiting at the time of the evening service were large from the Kol Shofar community, as well as a few precious souls who schlepped all the way from Napa, Benicia, Sonoma and other places relatively far from Mill Valley.
As some sweet Kol Shofar members, among the observant folks who are part of the synagogue, stayed late to clean up after the visitors had left, they acknowledged how things had changed…that people now think of Shiva as the evening service time to visit and not a day long process. They urged me to use my experience as a starting point to educate people about the breadth and power of the Shiva process in addressing how customs had changed since Dad died.
This reflection is a result of that urging. It begins with mourners considering the age old value of putting their regular lives on hold for a week to allow them to deal with their loss and let others help them to do so. My sense is that for so many people who have suffered losses these last number of years, it would be natural to assume that if they didn’t stay home all day during the week, why expect that someone else would? That would explain my friends’ apology in presuming they were intruding by coming during the day.
The purpose of this piece is to encourage reflection on ways we can help each other deal with loss and to consider the Jewish system for mourning as one of the strategies to include. It generates wonderful opportunities for sharing with one another and elevating spirits.
Even without the opportunity to connect in the Shiva context, I am filled with gratitude for the love, best wishes and heartfelt sentiments you have shared with me and my family in the many other ways and contexts.
May the new secular year bring good health, blessings and many simchas, many happy occasions for you and your dear ones with hopes and prayers that it is a year of peace and wellbeing for us and our world.