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Our Shiva Experience
Mom with a View

Our Shiva Experience

Sharing our friend's pain is more important than sharing their joy.


“Better to go to a house of mourning than a house of joy.” Ecclesiastes

It is a big mitzvah to share in the joy of our friends. We rejoice in their accomplishments – school graduations, career advancements – and dance at their simchas – Bar Mitzvahs, weddings. So great is the imperative to bring joy to the bride and groom that even our greatest rabbis will dance with wild abandon in front of them. When our friends give birth, we throw showers, we buy presents, we cook. We are very good at sharing joy and that is no small thing. It is a privilege to be part of a community and to care deeply and intimately about the welfare of others. We jump at the opportunity to go to an engagement party, a wedding, a bris. We participate enthusiastically in the happiness of our brethren.

You don’t need the right words, you don’t need the sage wisdom, you just need to come.

We are not quite as enthusiastic when it comes to paying shiva calls. For obvious reasons. It feels awkward. It is painful. We don’t know what to say (nothing until the mourner speaks first). And so we may avoid them. We have a whole slew of rationalizations (I know; I’ve used many of them myself). “I didn’t really know the person who died very well.” “I’m not so close with the mourner.”

But I can tell you from the other side that a shiva call is a much greater kindness than attending a wedding. It is more needed. It is more appreciated. And you don’t have to be close to make a difference.

When my daughter was sitting shiva for the loss of her baby, I noticed every person who came – and everyone who didn’t (I wish I could say I was a bigger person than that but it wouldn’t be honest), everyone who called and everyone who didn’t. Each person helped. Each person took away a tiny piece of the pain. Each person brought additional and new comfort.

Sometimes it was people we knew less well whose behavior touched us the most. We were moved they took the trouble to come. Sometimes the words of a friend, or their hug, their empathic silence, or even their joke, were just what we needed. One of our good friends had just broken her foot and the doctor ordered her to remain in bed. But she couldn’t stay away…

That moved us also. Who “can’t stay away” from a shiva house? People who really care, who have your back, who experience your pain as their own.

Those who give during shiva have no idea what it means to the mourners, how deeply appreciated their presence alone is. You don’t need the right words, you don’t need the sage wisdom, you just need to come.

It’s wonderful to share our friend’s joy. It’s a precious part of community life. But it’s even more necessary and more profound to share their sorrow. It’s much harder but much more important and impactful. Sharing pain is also a precious part of community life, even more precious than sharing joy. And even more appreciated and, ultimately, ironically, more life-giving and affirming.

October 3, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) Anonymous, August 26, 2012 4:41 PM

I was so sorry to read about the loss of your grandchild. Having lost both of my parents within 19 months of one another, I truly appreciate all of the people who paid shiva calls. I do my best to pay shiva calls to members of my community whenever I hear about a loss.

(9) Rene Lowy, October 7, 2010 11:33 PM

Long lost friends

I sat shiva for my wonderful father a year ago. I cannot begin to tell you how meaningful it was to see people who I had long lost touch with, some who I had forgotten about over the years. The comfort I felt in seeing them was indescribable. A number of years ago I heard that somebody I had not seen in a long time lost their father. My insecurity, that of not being recognized by him, made me wonder if I should pay a shiva visit. I asked a close friend who had just gotten up from sitting shiva for advice. She told me the following. "Go, it is the one thing you won't have a second chance to do." When in doubt just go. You cannot imagine how much it means to the family mourning.

(8) Yehudah, October 7, 2010 10:57 PM

Why I'm Still Frum

My final day of shiva happened to be Erev Pesach -- very difficult for getting a minyan, what with folks doing last-minute cleaning, burning their chametz, or looking for a siyum for the fast of the firstborn. We made a minyan when one of the regulars (who prior to sitting shiva I hadn't even met yet) walked in with two gentlemen from out of town, in for the holiday. He had seen them walking to shul while he was driving to the shiva house, rolled down his window, and called out "shiva minyan!" With that, two men got into a "stranger's" car to go comfort a Jew they'd never met before, driven by a man I'd known for less than a week. When people ask me why on earth I would want to be an Orthodox Jew, with all the burdens of halachah and such, I tell this story and say how could anyone not want to be part of such a tender, caring community? This is the essence of being a Jew. I have since become a volunteer with Chevrah Kadishah, helping to make telephone calls to round up tzadikim when G-d Forbid a tahara needs to be performed. Here, too, people will drop everything to meet the need of prepairing for burial someone they may not even know. Baruch Hashem sh'lo asani goy, indeed...

(7) Joanne Asher, October 7, 2010 2:23 AM


Dear Mrs. Braverman, When my daughter's friend lost her baby, I gave her Rabbi Stone's article from The Jewish Observer December 1997, "Short-Term Gifts". She found it so helpful she copied it for her whole family. If you can't obtain a copy , let me know and I will mail you a copy. Tapestry is a magazine published in Brooklyn for those of us who have lost children. I don't know if you would find that helpful or just too much to bear. HaMakon ynachem etchem b'tock sh'ar aveilei Tsion v'yerushalayim.

(6) Judith, October 5, 2010 4:37 PM

In addition

My heart goes out to you for the terrible loss of your grandchild. Our 35-year-old son died 7 months ago. The pain is indescribable. But we have been overwhelmed too by the support, generosity, and kindness of our family, friends, and co-workers, who came to shiva and have continued to be there for us. I hate when people ask me how I am doing, but I know they mean well, and that is important. I am especially grateful for reminiscences about our son, who affected many people's lives, and for the various efforts to commemorate him. That is not really relevant to the loss of a baby, but just being quietly present for the bereaved, being on hand if they feel like talking, or helping organize the food, gifts, and mail that arrive during the shiva are enormously appreciated. Like #3 anonymous, I did not know how important that support was, and I too have vowed to do a better job of providing it for others in the future.

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