Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sitting Shiva

Everyone grieves differently, that is elementary. Some want certain things said, some want nothing said, some want anything and everything said, and some just don't know what to say. A grieving person can be volatile, emotional, and very sensitive. Something you might think would be good to say, may just be the one thing to put them over the edege. So, when in doubt, say nothing. By all means, I am not suggesting to ignore the person, or give them "space." There are many ways to show the person that you care and are there for them. You just don't want to put your foot in your mouth at a time like this. You can send them a card, bring them a meal, pray for them, or just be with them. All without saying a word.

Many religions and cultures observe s specific bereavement period in many ways, some similiar and some very different. Some shorter, but some lasting up to 2 years. But the universal deinition for true mourning is all the same. All use the word "Mourning" to descibe a "cultural complex of behaviours in which the breaved participate." This can vary from wearing special clothing, veils, or jewelry, to not working or cooking, to following very specific timelines, some of which could be defined as very purposeful rituals. But all are synonomous with deep, intense meaning.

There is an old Jewish custom for grieving and mourning during the bereavement period, called Shiva. Although I am not Jewish, there is much appealing about this ritual to the naieve eye. They very purposely set aside a certain amount of time for certain mourning stages, to help the grievers heal properly. This culture definitely acknowledges the need to grieve. The stages are very specific and thought out with the griever in mind. The mourning begins with a 7 day period called Shiva, then a 30 day period called Shloshim, followed by a 12 month period caleed Shneim. The first seven days, more specifically named as the Sitting Shiva, is a period where close friends and family members come to the griever's house and just SIT with them. Nothing has to be said and no one is searching for the right thing (or anything) to say. You just sit. You acknowledge the griever's pain and make your presence known to them and that you care. The grievers do not go to work and they purposely set aside this time to look different than normal everyday life. They are encouraged not to worry about their appearances and mirrors are even covered to reinforce this principle. They most often wear dark or black clothing and somtimes even ripped outer garments to symbolize their inner ripped hearts. All of these traditions are to be subtle reminders of the temporary nature of our bodies and our shared morality.

Our Western Civilization knows very little about true grieving. It is not something taught to us nor anything we are ever properly prepared for. All we know as a whole is that we want it to hurry along and go away. We don't want to see the person crying or mourning. It makes us all very uncomfortable, as close friends and a distnat society. We want to neatly sweep it all into a box in the corner. Now I am not talking about a typical everyday death that we all face at one time or another. I am talking about a tragic loss of a very dear loved one that is unexpected, or comes too soon in life, or comes with a long term illness that steals their life and dignity away. Not just the ordinary sadness, but GRIEF, with a capital G. And this type of sorrow can not be rushed along or put on a timeline. We all must grieve individually as we need so we can properly heal from the loss of our loved one. And the more you loved, the more you will grieve. But unfortunately, just after a few weeeks of the loss, our society wants it all to be over and done with and back to "normal" as quickly as possible. But it's just not that easy.

Our own Christian Bible, of which many of our basic beliefs were found upon, gives us some insight into the mourning process. It does not say we are exempt from feeling sorrow or mourning, just because we are believers. It does not say "if" we mourn or weep, but in Ecclesiastes it says, "There IS a time to weep.......there IS a time to mourn." In Psalm 34, it says we will be "brokenhearted" and "crushed in spirit." And in Jeremiah it says we will "mourn and have sorrow." But the good news is found at the end of these passages! In Ecclesiastes, God promises us there will be a time of dancing and laughing AFTER the weeping and mourning! In Psalms, God reminds us he is close to the broken hearted. And in Jeremiah, God promises that He will "turn our mourning into gladness. He will give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow!" So, yes,the mourning and bereavement stages of a greiver will be there, BUT........they will eventually end. And that is a promise we can cling to.

So, sit tight. Don't rush the process. Be sensitive to those greiving. Give them time, not space. And if you just don't know what to say.........then just "sit."


  1. Very well said Jerrie and good advice to all. I try to just "sit" with people who are grieving or struggling in anyway. I try not to rush to say anything. I may not always succeed, but I do try.
    You writings are so real and insightful. I enjoy reading them!
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. I am going to have to start looking for a publishing company for your book you are writing.
    It is very well written.

    Love me

  3. Four and a half years into my own sitting, I cannot find a word to describe the loss. Nothing anyone can tell me will make it better, and yet time continues to heal the wound. I have spent much time being an angry person and have decided that it is energy misspent. Can't express my love too much to both of you. Even if maybe you don't want to hear it right now.