Over the years, I have written several columns about how to behave while making a shiva call. Now, its personal.
Last week was the first time that I sat shiva. My father, Rabbi Marvin Balsam (Pinchas Matisyahu ben Yosef Mordechai) a’h passed away on Thursday February 21, after 7 months of hospitalizations and rehab.
While shiva was hard for us, most people were caring and appropriate. However, there were certain people who seemed to come with their own agendas.
Let me stress: If you are planning to be menachem avel, do it with the sensitivity that you would use for any mitzvah. Learn the halachot of Nichum Aveilim. It is not a social event. It is not a time to let the mourner comfort you. It is your job to comfort the mourner.
I did not want to be a psychotherapist; I wanted to be able to sit with mother and sister and mourn our loss. By nature, I am a friendly and gracious person. However, I was in no mood to make people feel comfortable. I was quiet. So much so, that even my mother wondered why I was not friendlier. I wanted people to comfort me. But people really don’t know the halachot.
So let’s review:
One should come in quietly and not initiate conversation; wait for the mourner to speak first. This is not a place to talk about your personal problems, your aches and pains, or about other tragedies and gossip.
The most helpful for me were the people who asked me how I was doing, women who either held my hand or offered some gesture of caring.
Don’t ask inappropriate and irrelevant questions. Who cares how old my father was or how long he was sick? What difference did it make that I was zoche to lose my father when I was a grandmother? He was still my father and the implication that I was lucky not to lose my father at a young age was not so comforting. I did not feel lucky. I felt sad and overwhelmed and did not appreciate these insensitive remarks. I did appreciate people telling me that it must be hard and that they wanted to be there for me emotionally.
Most painful was someone saying I should not be so happy. I was fortunate to have one of my closest friends sitting near me when that comment was made. She explained that she too kept her father alive and prolonged his suffering since she could not let him go.
While my father never complained of suffering, I know how much a toll his illness took on all of us. I was not happy, just relieved that all of our suffering was over.
I did not understand the person who spent the whole time complaining about my dining room chairs and her back.
Silence is appropriate. Why are people so uncomfortable with silence? A warm gesture with silence is preferable to inappropriate remarks.
Please don’t ask questions. Some people want to share and to talk about their experience because it is therapeutic and that’s fine, just take your cues from the mourner. You can even say, I’m here for you and I’m happy to just sitting in silence if that’s what you want.
I know that people really mean well. So next time you pay a shiva call think, “How can I make the person and or people sitting shiva feel more comfortable? What can I do to help ease their pain?”
Dear readers, I do appreciate all those who came to try to comfort us. Hatzlocha!