How Jewish Rituals Helped Me Mourn My Miscarriage


I had a miscarriage this summer — and it broke me in more ways than I could have imagined. At my nine-week appointment, I discovered, to my complete surprise, that I was experiencing a “missed abortion” – a pregnancy loss in which I’d had no miscarriage symptoms whatsoever. Not only did I have to make medical decisions while in shock, but I also struggled intensely to make sense of what I was feeling emotionally and spiritually.

With help, I recognized that I was deep in the throes of grief. Jewish tradition provides an incredible structure for mourners to grieve the death of a loved one. Yet nothing is prescribed for my miscarriage grief. When grieving, it can be harder to make any decision, large or small. I craved a prescription for what to do; that might have left me with fewer heart-wrenching decisions.

Nonetheless, I found healing and comfort in adapting Jewish rituals and traditions.

In honor of October being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, here are some of the lessons I learned:

  1. Jewish tradition teaches that we are not obligated to mourn a miscarriage or even the death of a baby who lives less than 30 days. In fact, we are taught that up through 40 days after conception (this would be just under 8 weeks pregnant in today’s terms, since counting begins at the woman’s last period, not at conception), the embryo is considered to be merely water (Yevamot 69b). This does not describe the emotional reality of many pregnant women or couples. Even in those early weeks, the connection to the embryo can be incredibly deep. And yet I recognize that mourning a miscarriage is not the same as mourning the death of a child or an adult. I didn’t lose a baby that I’d held. I didn’t even lose a fetus. I lost an embryo (the transition from embryo to fetus happens in the 11th week), but that embryo was supposed to make me a mother. That embryo was supposed to grow into a fetus. I would have delivered a baby, named and held my child. That embryo had a due date. I had a timeframe sketched out already for when I would start looking at daycare options.
  2. The specific grief of a miscarriage is different but still very real. In order to cope with my grief, I needed to mourn. The ancient rabbis likely believed that having a prescribed set of mourning rituals for a miscarriage may have been a burden, since families could experience multiple miscarriages.
    Today, too, families may experience one or more miscarriages. While miscarriage rates may or may not have changed since rabbinic times, many things have changed: birth control has led to less pregnancies; at-home pregnancy tests help women find out that they are pregnant much earlier than even several decades ago; because of ultrasound technology, pregnancies feel much more “real” when a future parent sees an embryo or a flickering heartbeat at a fairly early stage. All of this leads to pregnant people (and their partners, if applicable) who are more likely to experience grief when losing a pregnancy. The Perinatal Grief Scale was developed in 1988 to help clinicians diagnose and care for their patients’ grief. What if certain rituals of mourning were opportunities to grieve, instead of a potentially weighty obligation placed on the family? Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino, faculty at Harvard Business School, conducted experiments to measure the impact of mourning rituals. They determined that rituals are incredibly effective in reducing grief because they allow mourners to regain a sense of control, at a time when it feels like they have lost any semblance of control of their world. For me, rituals like burial and mikveh also helped me find a sense of validity in my grief. I needed concrete physical acts that also stemmed from Jewish tradition to help me recognize that my loss was real and mattered, both in my own eyes, and perhaps more importantly, in the eyes of Jewish tradition.
  3. Rituals may be traditionally absent, but Jewish rituals, modified from other contexts, are emerging. Not everyone marks time and life cycle through Jewish liturgy and ritual, but I do. Each person will find what is meaningful for them in coping with a miscarriage. In the first few days, I felt compelled to have a way to externalize my pain. 

When an immediate relative dies, the mourner tears their clothes or wears a kriyah ribbon. I chose to let my nail polish chip away naturally over the coming weeks instead of taking it off my fingernails once it started to chip. I looked unkempt and that felt appropriate. People should know that something was awry. I whispered kaddish once while tears streamed down my face – it felt both rebellious and cathartic. I realized that I needed a burial of sorts, echoing how we address a loved one who has died. 

With the help of Sinai Memorial Chapel, I arranged to bury my embryo, unmarked, near newly planted trees in a cemetery. I chose not to be present for it, but it was comforting to know that it was returned to the earth. I also visited the site a few weeks later with a friend and buried a piece of paper on which I’d written my due date, and some other dates that would no longer be shared with this baby – I had envisioned a baby costume for this Purim, and had imagined that this Passover would be my first as a parent. None of this was halachically prescribed or encouraged but these acts helped me say goodbye.


Some new Jewish rituals for mourning a miscarriage suggest planting a sapling. But for me, this didn’t seem fitting. A sapling would grow into a larger plant, but my baby-that-should-have-been was never going to grow. While I yearned to one day be able to grow a different pregnancy, that wasn’t what I wanted out of this ritual. I needed a ritual that was solely about loss before I could begin to think about new life again.
  4. The cultural norm is to keep the pregnancy quiet through the first semester — but that’s not always helpful. Miscarriages are common, but it feels incredibly lonely.* The Jewish community has a superstitious relationship to the evil eye: if you tell others about your blessing (of pregnancy), the evil eye might overhear and change your luck. Soon after the first trimester, you start to show, and the secret is out, so the concern about the evil eye lessens a bit then. When I miscarried, only a small group of people knew about my pregnancy. How could my tight-knit Jewish community support me through this trauma when only a handful of people knew that I was pregnant? We have been trained to not publicly reveal pregnancies until we are past the first trimester, and yet that first trimester is when 75-80% of miscarriages occur. And they happen more than we realize. 20-30% of pregnancies end in a miscarriage, and the statistics only increase as women continue to have children into their late 30s, 40s, and beyond.   One the one hand, the more people you tell about your pregnancy, the more people you feel like you need to ‘un-tell’ should you, God forbid, miscarry. On the other hand, those people are the ones who can hold you – feed you, check in on you, and let you fall apart with them. 

When I did tell people who didn’t know that I had been pregnant, I had to tell them three secrets at once: (a) I decided to try to become a parent (b) I had been elated that I got pregnant (c) I am now crushed because I had a miscarriage and now I need you to be gentle with me. Sharing pregnancy news – whether about a new pregnancy or a pregnancy loss – is an incredibly vulnerable act. Don’t be too afraid of letting people know before you cross the first-trimester finish line, if those people would not only celebrate with you but also support you through your fears or even a loss. Let’s change the stigma around revealing a pregnancy while it is still uncertain. The uncertainty doesn’t go away entirely until you hold a baby in your arms.
  5. A miscarriage is related to, but not identical to, infertility. Trying to get pregnant again may feel intensely different than before. 
For weeks, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d done something to cause this, even though I was reassured again and again that running too much or taking a redeye or that sip of coffee would not cause me to miscarry. 
People told me that it was a good sign that I was able to get pregnant. While there might be medical truth to that, as much as I wanted reassurance that I would eventually, God willing, be able to carry a pregnancy to term, I need to mourn this particular loss – this particular baby-to-be that I carried and would never become a baby that I could hold in my arms. I went to the mikveh before I tried again, so that I could acknowledge that my body, which was supposed to create life, had in fact held a sort of death. I needed to immerse and wash that away in order to be ready for new life again.
  6. A miscarriage is not (always) the same as being sick. 
My mental and spiritual health were compromised, but thankfully, in my particular situation, I was never worried about my physical well-being. This may not be true for other women, but I did not want to benschgomel (a call-and-response moment during an aliyah to the Torah, often said when you survive a potentially life-threatening experience) both because of this gratitude for my health throughout and because I was not sure that I wanted to acknowledge my miscarriage quite so publicly. 

I associate gomel with surviving in the face of fear, but I had not been afraid. Instead, I had been devastatingly sad.
  7. When in shock and grief, decisions are exponentially harder. Prescribed rituals or other things to do or not to do can help you move through that. 
When an immediate family member dies, Jewish tradition prescribes very specific and concrete changes in order to grieve the life lost. 

I have been working on compiling resources for rabbinic colleagues to help their communities mourn miscarriages, perinatal losses, and neonatal deaths, but there isn’t a definitive set of do’s and don’ts. In the midst of what can be a deeply chaotic and heart-wrenching experience, rabbis can help by developing a concrete set of ways to mourn. Had I been steered toward taking several days to fully grieve in a way that parallels shiva, I believe that I would have healed more easily.

Grieving my pregnancy loss was incredibly challenging. And yet, a foundation in traditional Jewish mourning rituals eventually helped me find ways to adapt them that felt honest and appropriate for miscarriage. As I moved through each day, I also found myself experiencing deep, profound gratitude for the people in my life who showed up for me over and over again.

May we find ways to cushion the pain of pregnancy losses with community, ritual, and tradition.

Complete Article HERE!

What does dying — and mourning — look like in a secular age?

Twenty-nine percent of Americans anticipate a secular funeral.

Artist Day Schildkret works with New Yorkers to create an art installation as a way to remember the the beauty and dignity of human life.

By Tara Isabella Burton

When somebody dies in the Catholic tradition, people generally know what to do. There’s the saying of the Last Rites at a dying person’s bedside, the vigil for the deceased — also known as a wake — and, often, a formal Mass of Christian Burial.

In the Jewish tradition, there’s the practice of sitting shiva: the week-long mourning process during which the family of the deceased remains at home, and friends and relatives call on them to pay their respects.

In the Islamic tradition, the deceased’s body is ritually bathed and shrouded in white cloth before Muslims of the community gather to perform the Salat al-Janazah, the customary prayer for the dead.

But what happens when you die and you don’t follow any faith tradition?

When Iris Explosion — an entertainer and social worker who prefers to go by her stage name — was widowed unexpectedly at age 28, she and her friends had to create the memorial service for her husband, Jon, from scratch.

Explosion and her husband were not conventionally religious — she describes herself as a “lax Jew,” while her husband, a queer man interested in alchemy and other occult practices, often felt alienated from the born-again Christianity of his parents. The memorial service her friends created a few days after his death, she says, contained a blend of traditions and practices individual to Jon.

A Jewish friend recited the Mourners’ Kaddish. The group told stories — some reverential, some “bawdy” — that reflected all aspects of Jon’s personality. They played an orchestral rendition of the theme song to Legend of Zelda, Jon’s favorite video game. Friends from out of town dialed in on Skype to share their stores. Numerous friends gave Explosion rose quartz, a stone associated in some New Age and occult traditions with heart healing, as a gift.

The memorial service — as well as a second funeral service, which took place a few months later, and was similarly eclectic in style — focused on Jon’s personality and interests rather than being constrained by a specific set of traditions.

Explosion is just one person among the 24 percent of Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated. For the religious “nones,” the issue of what happens when you die is an open question in more ways than one. According to a 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, the most recent year for which data is available, 29 percent of Americans do not anticipate having a religious funeral, for whatever reason, and given the steady increase in religious “nones” over the past decade, that number will likely only rise.

But what do secular funerals — or death rituals more broadly — look like? What can they provide that religious death rituals can’t? What are the challenges involved in putting them together?

And as secular funerals become increasingly individualistic, tailored to the preferences and needs of the deceased, rather than a given religious or spiritual tradition, what does that mean for the sense of community engendered by ritual?

Secular funerals are part of a wider “unbundling” of religion

It started with weddings.

Scholar and psychologist Philip Zuckerman, author of Living the Secular Life, suggested in a telephone interview that secular funerals are just the latest iteration of the secularization of major life stages overall.

Its genesis, he said, lies in the proliferation of secular weddings in America. In 2017, just 22 percent of American weddings took place in houses of worship, a nearly 20-point drop from 2009, according to data from the wedding website the Knot.

“The first thing we saw was zillions of people going online and registering with the Universal Life Church,” said Zuckerman, referring to an organization that virtually automatically ordains people over the Internet, “so they can perform their own weddings for friends and family, so they can still make it sacred but not under the auspices of religion.”

Different states have different laws about the extent to which Universal Life ordinations are legally valid for performing weddings. Funerals, however, have no such restrictions.

Zuckerman posits that among the people he’s interviewed for his book research, the desire to have a secular funeral isn’t just about not wanting to affirm the existence of a God or an afterlife that the deceased may or may not believe in. Rather, he says, it’s also about wanting to preserve a sense of the deceased’s individuality.

“They just don’t want fairy tales. They don’t want to be told, ‘So-and-so’s in a better place now,’ or, ‘So-and-so is now suckling the bosom of Jesus’ — they can find that talk annoying,” Zuckerman said. “We want to curate our own Facebook page. Why wouldn’t we want to curate our own funeral?”

More and more, Zuckerman said, he sees people choosing their own music and their own speeches that they want to be read after they die. “I think that is part of our growing individual and less of this care of tradition … more and more people want to feel the idiosyncrasies of the dead person and the specialness of the dead person.”

This attitude, he said, is particularly prevalent in the United States. “We all like to think in the United States that we’re special. Why wouldn’t we want our funerals to be special too?”

Certainly, for Iris Explosion, commemorating Jon’s life in a way that felt true to his personality and character was a priority. From sharing Jon’s favorite Spotify playlists with his friends to curate the music selection for the services to working in references to My Little Pony — a show Jon loved — Explosion and the couple’s friends created a memorial for Jon that fit his character.

By contrast, Explosion said, she declined to attend other memorial services, like one hosted by Jon’s family in his home state, that had a more Christian focus, instead circulating an email to attendees of that service asking them to donate to Planned Parenthood, which she felt better reflected her husband’s values.

Explosion’s experience dovetails with a phenomenon called religious “unbundling.” A term coined by Harvard Divinity School researchers Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thomas, who have covered how phenomena like CrossFit and Soulcycle function similarly to religions for their participants, “unbundling” refers to the way both the religiously unaffiliated and the religious alike are increasingly willing to pick and choose elements of spiritual traditions.

Someone might, for example, be a committed Christian but also practice Buddhist meditation or yoga, or be an atheist but attend Jewish family holidays and read tarot cards. In a pluralist landscape, in which people are used to gathering information and ideas from multiple sources (not least through the internet), a more individualized approach to religion and life rituals is all but inevitable.

As a culture, we still haven’t figured out what secular death rituals should look like

Even for those of traditional faiths, death is a phenomenon that defies easy answers. But for the religiously unaffiliated, processing and dealing with death and its aftermath can be an especially loaded task.

Brad Wolfe is trying to help them do that.

Wolfe is the founder of the week-long Reimagine End of Life festival. The singer-songwriter and author was inspired to work in the end-of-life space after watching a close college friend’s struggle with terminal cancer. The festival, which takes place in New York and San Francisco, partners with community centers and artists to curate a 300-strong series of events — from talks to workshops to performances to museum displays — dealing with the subject of death.

“Death is often the central coalescing element around which many religions are formed,” Wolfe told me in a phone interview. “As we’ve become more secular in some communities … there’s an increasing hunger for that space … to come together and explore this topic.”

The New York festival, which took place around Halloween, featured a range of explorations: a class on how to write your own obituary, doctors talking about dealing with their patients’ deaths, live musical performances exploring themes of loss and bereavement.

Participants speak at the the Nocturnists storytelling event where doctors from Mount Sinai, New York University, Columbia, and other local hospitals share their personal experiences with death.

What connects each event is a sense of intentionally: that people are actively setting aside time and space to deal with a weighty topic.

Both Wolfe and Zuckerman identify similar elements of what that “coming together” looks like. Ideally, both say, it involves elements of ritual, community gathering, and a sense of meaning: How do we conceptualize a person’s death as part of a bigger picture?

Wolfe suggested that we might be better off looking at this “coming together” not as a nonreligious event but as an expansion of the definition of what religion means. At least two Reimagine events are, fundamentally, immersive theater performances. In one, participants are invited into a phone booth to have conversations they wish they’d had with somebody who has died.

In another, participants role-play members of a fictional bereavement support group. Speaking about these events, Wolfe argued that the lines between art, ritual, religion, and performance are deeply blurred.

“The boundaries between art and religion are more porous when it becomes a practice explored with intention,” he said. What matters is the sense of significance shared by participants: “Having a practice, a shared system, allows us to connect in ways that give us a sense of comfort and something we know we can turn to.”

The idea or combining artistic creation and end-of-life ritual is far from new to Janie Rakow, president of the International End of Life Doula Association. As a “death doula,” Rakow works in hospices, helping those facing the end of their lives develop rituals and practices around their death. While she works with patients from a wide variety of religious backgrounds through the hospice, she tailors her work and approach to the individual in question.

One of the most important parts of the end-of-life process, she says, is the act of creation. She helps her patients develop what she calls “legacy projects”: individual artistic works, from a memory box to audio letters.

“Everyone has a legacy,” Rakow says. “So [I ask myself] what kind of legacy project could we possibly create with this person to really leave behind a sense of who they are or were?”

Next, she asks patients to help plan their own death — where they would like to be? What music they would like to be listening to?

“There may be some ritual work done around that,” she says, even if it’s “as simple as surrounding their bed, holding hands, saying a prayer or saying poetry, reading something to them, [or] lighting a candle.”

The point is to help dying people take an active, creative role in the story they leave behind.

Doula Craig Phillips pauses before entering the room of a person who is near death at the Gilchrist Hospice in Baltimore on June 6, 2016.

Often, Rakow says, these rituals are tailored to individual passions. She gives the example of one man she worked with, who was dying from ALS, a degenerative neurological condition that prevented him from being able to move. With his wife, Rakow created a series of guided visualizations for the man, who loved hiking, “so we would bring him with his eyes closed on the most detailed and specific hike that we could from the very beginning to hiking all the way through.”

She’d walk him through ”smelling the forest and feeling himself walking up the hills and hearing the birds chirping and looking over at the crystal clear lake. And the more descriptive we could get, we were able to bring him back into his body that he wasn’t able to use through his mind.”

Secular rituals present their own set of challenges

One of the most difficult parts of creating secular death rituals is compensating for the lack of built-in community, or built-in structure, that often accompanies more established religious traditions.

Zuckerman pointed out that the secular bereaved don’t necessarily have a clear road map, or community support, to help them deal with the pragmatic aftermath of a death.

“One of the biggest problems for secular culture [is that] you have to cobble together and make it yourself. If you want your kid to have a bar mitzvah, it’s all taken care of. You want your kid to go through confirmation class in the Episcopal Church? Boom, they’re enrolled. If you want to do a secular version of that? Good luck. You’re on your own. You have to figure it out, explain it to people, rent the space, find people, figure out how to write up your own program. … It’s a lot of effort.”

The lack of intentional secular communities, Zuckerman said, only intensifies this problem. “With religious communities,” he said, “not only is the structure of the funeral in place, but there are going to be people who are going to immediately sign up to cook dinner for your family for a month and they’re going to deliver food to your doorstep and they’re going to help you get your kids to school and they’re going to do a lot for you. And when you’re secular, you don’t have those kinds of resources.”

Pallbearers escort the casket to the altar during the funeral for Watertown firefighter Joseph Toscano at St. Patricks Catholic Church in Watertown, Massachusetts, on March 22, 2017.

For some secular Americans, the idea of having a “chosen family” — a close-knit network of friends — helps fill in the gap. Just as Friendsgiving has become a phenomenon among urban millennials, friendship networks more broadly have become an increasingly vital part of social cohesion, replacing both extended family structures and traditional organized religious communities.

That was certainly the case for Explosion. She cites her friends’ involvement in making the service possible at a time when she didn’t feel capable of planning herself. “I needed camaraderie and community,” she said, and I feel like I had it.”

At the same time, she says, she had less of a blueprint for how to cope with the next stages of grief after about six months.

“People go back to their own lives,” she said. “And it was hard to feel that sense of community. Without a church or synagogue to bind us together, it maybe felt like it dissipated. People missed their friend and their co-worker. But for me, it’s like, I miss my husband who lived with me, and it was hard to feel that sense of community after time had passed.”

The next step forward might be intentional secular communities

Explosion’s story points to a wider tension in the world of secular funerals and the creation of secular culture more broadly. On the one hand, the benefits of the “unbundled” religious landscape, for many secular Americans, lie in the opportunity to create truly new, individualistic rituals and experiences. We have the opportunity to curate our identities and public personae event after death, creating experiences that feel unique to us.

On the other hand, what risks getting lost in the process is precisely that feeling of collective identity that demands subsuming our individuality in a wider whole. Religious rituals and language, from Catholic ceremonial liturgy to the Salat al-Janazah, may not feel fully and uniquely “us,” but they nevertheless define and orient a wider community and give us a sense of shared values.

The 19th-century sociologist Émile Durkheim saw religion primarily as a shared construction of identity; in his seminal 1912 work The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, he wrote, “The most barbarous and the most fantastic rites and the strangest myths translate some human need, some aspect of life, either individual or social.”

As more and more Americans leave organized religion, the next question is whether, and how, many of them will gather together, and how an increasingly individualistic conception of identity can be reconciled with the real, human need for group belonging. As secular funerals and death rituals become the new standard, we may see some of these rituals become more group-centric.

For Explosion, for example, the process of grieving led her to an unexpected new ritual. During her husband’s life, she said, she often played a video game called Destiny with him, looking up the location of objects hidden in-game and giving him hints to find them. While she never particularly got into the game, she said, she enjoyed playing it with him. After his death, she started watching YouTube videos of people playing the game, or its sequel, to remember the time they’d shared. Then she decided to buy the game’s sequel to play it herself.

“I’ve been playing this game I wouldn’t have played if he hadn’t died. And it’s been meditative for me. Finding the little things, like doing these things we used to do, felt like a pilgrimage in a way,” she said.

Sometimes, Explosion communicates with other players in the game online. While she’s only told a few of them about her personal history with the game, she’s nevertheless found a community that can accompany her in a time of grief.

“When we do a big quest or a raid together, there’s always a moment for me of, you know, okay, he would have done this. He did this in the old game. Now it’s me kind of picking up this mantle.”

The secular funeral liturgies we see in the future may transition from being individualistic to being based on other nonreligious elements that bring a community together. They may involve the music of My Little Pony or the playing of video games.

Ultimately, they’ll represent two fundamental human needs. First, to make sense of a beloved’s death. And second — and just as importantly — to not do it alone.

Complete Article HERE!

Religious rituals surround death

Headstones at Catholic Cemetery No. 1 in Victoria.

By Jennifer Lee Preyss

[I]nside Memory Gardens, a well-groomed cemetery off Cuero Highway, marked graves and floral arrangements pay tribute to the lives of thousands of Victorians who have died.

Near the rear of the grounds, 50 plots have been reserved for members of the Victoria Islamic Center.

Even though many Islamic communities throughout the United States bury members in Islamic-only cemeteries, Victoria Islamic Center Imam Osama Hassan said the 50 plots in Memory Gardens fit the needs of the community.

“It has worked out perfect for us. It’s the right size for our needs for the future,” he said, mentioning the small size of its congregation.

Like many other religious sects in South Texas, including Christianity and Judaism, Islam has its own unique rituals for burying the dead.

Often, Islamic communities purchase their own cemeteries, especially if they are part of large communities of Muslims or live in larger cities. But death is an important part of life and how a Muslim is honored in death is especially important for believers.

“The Prophet Mohammed tells us to talk about death because it’s a part of life. But many people are afraid to. Some people feel if they talk about it, it’s like bad luck, like someone they know may die,” he said. mentioning the cultural aspect of international Muslims from various countries around the world who are reluctant to discuss or plan for death. “We should be talking more about it.”

Islamic members are not the only community in Victoria with special requirements for death.

In downtown Victoria, off Vine Street, a Jewish cemetery dating back to the mid-1800s indicates some of the city’s earliest residents were Jewish, including the first Jew to settle in Victoria, Abraham Levi, who established one of the city’s earliest grocery stores on Main Street.

Catholic and early Protestant cemeteries also remain pervasive throughout the region, established in the early 1800s as settlers moved in and established churches and parishes.

The Rev. Max Landman, of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hallettsville, said Catholic funerals are distinct, in part because of their reverence for the dead.

“The main thing, with respect to a Catholic funeral, is we’re there to pray for the soul of the dead person. A lot of times, it can be seen as a celebration of the person’s life – and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the person’s life – but the point of the funeral from the Catholic’s perspective is to commend that soul to God,” Landman said. “We firmly believe that our prayers for that person, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass are helpful in obtaining mercy and speeding that person’s soul into paradise.”

As Halloween approaches, a time of year that gives a not-so-subtle nod to death, cemeteries and afterlife, the season offers a unique opportunity to examine the customs of area religions as they honor the members of their congregations in the religious context they acknowledge.

Here are a few of the many death traditions of Catholics, Muslim and Jewish believers around the world.

In most religions, tombstones and grave markers are permitted and visited by the living.

When a Muslim dies, the body should be buried as soon as possible. Three to four hours is preferable, up to one day, but no longer than 48 hours. The bodies are not embalmed, and careful consideration is given to treatment of the body because Muslims believe the person can still hear and feel pain.

Autopsies and cremations are not acceptable for this reason; however, organ donation may be permitted in some circumstances because it is seen as a charitable event.

Instead, Muslims are washed with soap and water and wrapped in a white cloth. Men prepare male deceased, while women prepare female deceased.

It is preferable that Muslims not be placed in a casket at all, allowing the dead to return immediately to the dirt.

Overseas, Muslims are buried directly in the ground. In the U.S., caskets are required, so Muslims typically place the coffin upside down to encapsulate the body once it is placed in the ground. Bodies must lie on their side and point toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The typical mourning period is three days, and believers are encouraged to return to normal life. This varies depending on each person, with some wearing black for many years in remembrance of a loved one.

Priests are called both right before and after death to pray the appropriate rites over the body.

Vigils are usually held on the evening before Mass, and there is often a praying of the rosary. This is typically the place where eulogies and tributes are delivered.

Caskets can be covered with white linens, or palls, and blessed with holy water as a reminder of baptism.

Bodies are allowed to be embalmed, however organ donation and cremation remain areas of disagreement among Catholics. It is preferred if cremation is being performed that the body not be cremated until after the funeral Mass, so the deceased can be present in the church for the service.

At burial, the Rite of Committal is given at the blessed burial site. The Lord’s Prayer is typically said upon closing.

When a Jew dies, the “Dayan HaEmet” prayer is recited, which acknowledges God as the true judge.

Jewish tradition prefers the body be laid to rest as soon as possible, as soon as one day, so funeral planning often begins immediately.

It is also preferable the body not be unattended and is often given a “shomer” or guardian.

If funerals cannot be held right away, exceptions can be made. Sometimes, the body is refrigerated while waiting on the funeral.

Bodies are typically washed and dressed. Men wash men and women wash women. The washing is called the “taharah.” The submerging of the body in water for the ritual bath is the “mikvah.”

The body is fully dried and dressed in a simple white cloth called a “tachrichim.” Men are typically buried in a “kippah” or skull cap, and also a “tallit” or prayer shawl.

Jews tend to avoid holding funerals on holy days or Saturdays.

Organ donation is generally accepted and seen as a good deed. Autopsies and embalming are generally not accepted unless required by law.

Cremation may be accepted depending on the degree of orthodoxy of the Jewish family. Orthodox Jews do not permit cremation, while conservative and reformed Jews may allow it.

Jews are placed in a simple pine casket without any metal, and sometimes holes are drilled in the bottom of the box to accelerate decomposition. There is generally no wake or visitation in the Jewish faith. Funerals are held in the synagogue, at the grave or funeral home, and include a eulogy, reading of the psalms, and the memorial prayer, “El Maleh Rachamim.”

It is customary for the tombstone or grave marker to be put up one year after the death. A stone is usually placed on the grave within the first 30 days to indicate someone has visited.

Complete Article HERE!

What Judaism Teaches Us About Grief And Loss


By Gila Silverman

[T]he headline on a recent Forward interview with Sheryl Sandberg asks if Sandberg can help Americans learn to grieve. Sandberg has certainly done all of us a great service by opening up a conversation about the way American do –- and don’t –- deal with death, dying and grief. In the essay that follows this headline, both Sandberg and Jane Eisner, who interviewed her, acknowledge that the rituals and structures of Jewish mourning can play an important role in processing our grief. As Jews, we are lucky. We do not need to create new ways of grieving; we need to look no further than our own traditions in order to learn how to grieve.

While the fact that everyone will die is universal, how we understand and respond to death is shaped by historical, cultural, political, economic, and, of course, religious, forces. Shared norms, values, and practices guide our expectations of how the bereaved should behave, of how we relate to the loss, of the responsibilities of the community, and of the social identities of the dead. As American Jews, therefore, the way we think about death is influenced both by our Jewish heritage and by the larger American culture.

In the United States today, death is primarily understood through the language and concepts of medicine, which focus on treatment, recovery and cure. Death is often perceived as a failure of the medical system, and talking about it makes many uncomfortable. Grief too is frequently seen as an individual and medical problem. Bereavement is a crisis to be resolved, and normal grieving behaviors are sometimes interpreted as symptoms of a psychiatric condition. For much of the 20th century, our understanding of grief built primarily on the psychoanalytic theories of Freud, and the work of grief was seen as letting go of the deceased, in order to free emotional energy for new relationships. Mourners were often told to “put the past behind”, “get back to normal”, and “move on”.

In the latter half of the 20th century, and into the 21st, new psychological models of grief emerged, primarily from researchers in North America and Western Europe whose methodologies allowed them to actively listen to the voices of the bereaved. My mother, Phyllis Rolfe Silverman, who died last June, was one of these scholars. In nearly 50 years of research in this field, she helped us to understand that bereavement is a time of change, a normal and expected life-cycle transition. Rather than something to recover from, mourning is a process of accommodation; it is not a linear process through a fixed set of stages, but a helix-like movement of negotiating a series of crises and accommodations. Mourning is an ongoing process of renegotiating a relationship, a “continuing bond”, with someone who is no longer physically present, and of reconstructing a meaningful world, and our place in it, following a loss. This is a process not of relinquishing an attachment or of giving up the past, but of changing our relationship to it. Grief is a life-long process, as the relationship to the deceased, and the meaning of the loss, is continually revisited and renegotiated as life events occur.

My mother always told us that Jews do grief well, that our Jewish traditions map perfectly onto the psychological experience of mourning. As I near the first anniversary of her death, and the end of my Jewish year of mourning, I understand now how right she was. Traditional Jewish laws prescribe a fixed set of mourning rituals and prohibitions, which are collectively referred to as Avelut (Hebrew for “mourning”) These rituals are designed to balance two core commandments: k’vod hamet –- honoring the deceased, and nichum avelim -– comforting the mourners. They make clear what is permitted and forbidden to the mourner during each phase of their grief, and outline for the community its responsibilities in caring for the dying, the dead, and the mourners. They recognize that what we need during the early days of intense pain and sadness is different than what comes later, as we accommodate to the empty space the death has left in our lives. Jewish rituals recognize that the individual is intertwined with the community, that, as the famous 1952 ethnography by Zborowski and Herzog declared, “life is with people”.

Our guidelines for mourning delineate who is considered a mourner (the parents, children, siblings, and spouse of the deceased), and the exact obligations and prohibitions guiding the behavior of each over time. These guidelines follow a clear progression, beginning at the moment of death, and continuing through the completion of the Avelut period, which is 30 days for a spouse, sibling or child, and one year for a parent. This is a highly structured process; as the mourners move from Aninut (entry into mourning) to Shiva (the first week), and then to Shloshim (the first thirty days) and eventually reach the end of Shanah (a year), they separate from, and then slowly return to, the social life of the community. Even after this year ends, those who have experienced a loss continue to participate in additional memorial rituals (yahrzeit, and, in the Ashkenazi tradition, yizkor) for the entirety of their lifetimes. At the heart of Jewish mourning rituals is recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish. The kaddish, a prayer sanctifying God, is to be recited daily for the Avelut period, and must be said in the presence of a quorum of ten Jews.

Within a larger social context that still expects people to move on from their grieving fairly quickly, the year of Jewish mourning rituals, and the ongoing opportunities to remember the deceased, send the bereaved a strikingly different message. Our rituals recognize that ongoing mourning is accepted, expected and supported by communal norms, rather than being a reason to seek professional help. Jewish mourning rituals encourage the bereaved to temporarily withdraw from normal functioning, gradually accept the reality of the loss, mobilize social support, and find new meaning within the existing frameworks that guide their lives. In particular, the daily recitation of kaddish, and the annual marking of the yahrzeit, serve as a recognition that the memories of the dead will always be with us. These rituals acknowledge that death ends a life, but not a relationship.

By so publicly speaking of, and writing about, her grief, Sheryl Sandberg has powerfully reminded us that we need to acknowledge, make room for, and talk openly about grief. But it is not her job to teach us how to grieve. We have the wisdom of our Jewish traditions to do that.

Complete Article HERE!

Where Do I Go To Mourn?

Ariele Mortkowitz

[T]he Jewish tradition is rich with mourning rituals. We’ve done it as a nation for millennia; mourning the loss of Jerusalem, lamenting the Holocaust, remembering the long lost days of the Holy Temple. As individuals, we do it with bagels and covered mirrors and week-long shiva visits. We can say Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) for a year. There is plenty of space and opportunity to grieve.

And it’s a good thing. A great thing even. It’s supportive. It’s community showing up at times when someone might be at their lowest low. It’s not leaving people to manage their grief alone. It’s a built-in system of shoulders to cry on, arms to lean on, caretakers, yentas – all of them creating a space for you to mourn and pause before gathering strength to move forward.

But while we offer so much to mourn those who have passed, there is nothing available to support those mourning pregnancy loss. There are no rituals. No one brings bagels. No one even talks about it. Some rabbis will tell you that you are not even permitted to say Kaddish after a stillbirth. It’s like it never happened.

And there’s a logical reason for that. In times long ago, pregnancy loss was incredibly common. It was also often very public. It was rare to find a family that had not lost a child or infant in the course of their family-building. In fact, many parents lost more than one in their lifetimes. So if the custom would have been to stop everything to mourn, people would have been in states of mourning constantly. And one could say that therapeutic value of shiva/mourning rituals would be diluted. The rabbis, in their wisdom, thought it better to not make such a big deal of pregnancy loss – precisely because it was so common.

But what about today? 2017. When pregnancy loss is not something that happens as often in each family? And certainly not in the same public way it did in olden times? What do we do with these feelings of loss that can be so devastating – particularly in the midst of communities that value children so highly?

Where should a couple take their grief when they learn that they will not be able to be parents? How should a mother-to-be mourn the loss of a life that she cherished? What prayer should she say? There is no ritual. No one talks about it openly because of the attached shame and disappointment of not being a “fruit bearer.”

It’s rough. It’s lonely. And it is incredibly sad.

It is ironic that a faith community that is normally so very good at supporting individuals laden with grief, can fail so terribly at addressing this common and natural loss.

I know of more than a few synagogue regulars who stopped attending services and recuse themselves from the ebb and flow of Jewish communal life after a miscarriage or when they continue to fail to conceive. With no “official” way to mourn a pregnancy loss or a fertility struggle, it can be incredibly isolating and “othering” for couples — often pushing people away from their communities during the very time they need support most. They feel not understood, invalidated, wrong for being so heartbroken. The absence of ritual or commemoration of pregnancy loss sends a message loud and clear: “Your loss is not a real loss. It is not worthy of the community’s attention or caring.”


So we wanted to do something about that. We wanted these important community members to feel held and supported and we wanted to validate their loss and let them know that they are not alone in their grief.

This month, we participated in Yesh Tikva/The Red Stone’s “Infertility Awareness Shabbat” in an unusual way. Our goal was to create a space for empathy and understanding about infertility in the very tight-knit, family-focused Jewish community. But, rather than ask our clergy to talk about infertility or pregnancy loss in a sermon as has been traditional, we decided to do something new.

On the Sabbath before Passover, the Agam Center at Ohev Sholom invited the entire community to “Light A Candle For Your Loss.” We circulated an anonymous form and asked our community members to indicate the number of memorial candles they would like illuminated on their behalf and gave them the option to have their candles dedicated or labeled in the manner of their choosing.

The response from the community was overwhelming. We lit forty-seven candles, submitted anonymously by thirty individuals – just from our 300 family congregation alone. We displayed these candles publicly, at the entrance to our sanctuary, in our light-filled atrium. Every community member passed by the memorial display on their way into services, and our clergy, Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman, invited the community to pay their respects and honor the (often silent) loss felt deeply among our grieving community members.

The responses from the community came pouring in.

“Thank you for doing this. Don’t really have words right now. Just gratitude to have the opportunity to mark my little boy’s birth, especially so close to the actual date.”

“This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for giving a voice to so many who are on this journey. All my love and support for your amazing, very necessary work.”

“I thought I’d fill out the form because it was a lovely idea – and then found myself in tears, making a small space for something I mostly push aside. Kudos to you for creating the holy opportunity. Really proud to be a part of this community.”

As far as I know, our decision to publicly anonymously recognize pregnancy loss in the synagogue community is a unique endeavor to validate this loss and create a space for a life-experience that can be so isolating and stigmatized and reframe it as an opportunity for communal support.

As we filed into the sanctuary for Saturday morning services, we stopped to read the inscriptions and dedications next to the memorial candles. They took my breath away. Here is but a sample of what was shared:

“I would have loved to love you.”

“Eternally grateful for the journey you were a part of, as painful as it has been. Your loss made way for those we watch grow, shaping me into a mother who strives for daily patience and gratitude.”

“Mothers Day 2011. You were and then you weren’t. Still wonder why I wasn’t supposed to be your mommy.”

“For the family I thought we’d have and the empty seat at our table that I wish we had filled.”

The Agam Center is working hard to make people feel seen and understand that their community is indeed there for them during their time of sorrow or struggle. We want to help people in the midst of a fertility journey see that they are truly not alone, and that there have been so many others – even right in their very synagogue community – who have walked this path with them. We are creating a space to mourn something that is usually so privately painful – particularly in a tradition that is, ironically, so “good” at supporting mourners in other circumstances. I am hopeful that we can begin to highlight ways that communities can create spaces for these losses and families unrealized.

Rather than staying home and feeling isolated, these mourning couples made a point to come to synagogue that week and watched as others learned about and began to appreciate the magnitude of the loss they were feeling. They came inside from standing on the fringe of the community and felt embraced and found solidarity, all without a word. This heartbreakingly beautiful display was our community’s way to show that all loss is real loss and to remind those still struggling that they are not alone in their grief of hopes for the family of their prayers.

May our communities know no more suffering. Amen.

Complete Article HERE!

How funeral traditions differ across Abrahamic religions

Funeral practices are deeply integrated in culture, reflecting beliefs and values around death. Offering an index of religion, funeral traditions in Abrahamic religions bear quite different stages as well as certain similarities


An Islamic funeral in Pakistan


[H]aving become a subject of philosophy, psychology, sociology as much as it has of anthropology and theology, mortality has always been a matter of interest throughout history as well in the present day. There is even a scientific field named “thanatology,” the science of death.

The anthropology of death brings us the very different funerary customs that have been in practice throughout history.

To start with a common example, ancient Egyptians used to embalm the deceased and built giant pyramids to house the embalmed bodies of their kings and pharaohs. Other interesting burial traditions include those of the ancient Greeks, recorded in anthropological records or literary works like those in Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey.”

As far as can be understood from historical accounts telling about the funeral of Attila the Hun, ancient Turks used to show their grief by hurting themselves. Before the 6th century, Turks were burning the deceased with their belongings and horses, and keeping the ashes to bury in autumn or spring. Certain Chinese and Arabic accounts report that it was the Kirghiz people who were the first Turks to burn the body. However, it was after this century that Turks began to bury their deceased.

In Iran, dead bodies used to be buried before the arrival of Mazdaism (Zoroastrianism). Fire, soil, air and the water are considered as sacred in Mazdaism and the body must not pollute any of these four elements. There was no burning or burying but the deceased used to be abandoned outside. The same tradition was visible among the Sasanians, as they used to abandon the dead outside and bury the separated bones and flesh in a special containers called “Ossuarium” later on. Today modern Mazdaists bury their deceased. “Burial customs always have been an index of religion,” American scholar Richard Nelson Frye says.

According to Abrahamic religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the appropriate way is to bury the deceased. It is believed that Cain (Qabil), the eldest son of Adam killed his brother Abel (Habil) and committed the first crime of murder. It was the first death on the earth and the first burial. It is still observed that Muslim and Jewish communities bury deceased people as a funerary custom following the order of the Quran and Torah. Cremation and embalming are strictly forbidden by Islam and Judaism. In both religions, burials take place as quickly as possible to honor the dead. Jews never hold a funeral on “Shabbat,” while there is no similar restriction in Islam.

Muslims and Jews prepare the body for burial by washing the body with warm water from head to feet. Jews call this process “Tahara.” Muslims apply “ghusl,” or the ritual of ablution. While washing, the body can be turned from one side to another to entirely clean it but it is never placed face down. In Islam and Judaism, the body is dressed in white burial shrouds and put in a simple wooden casket. Men prepare men and women prepare women.

In Islam, a person who is about to die is expected to say the “Shahada,” or the testimony of faith, which translates to, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” His family or close friends should encourage him to say it because it is regarded as one of the first pillars of Islam.

When the person dies, those present close the deceased’s eyes and cover the body with a clean sheet. Someone is expected to read the Quran. As soon as the “ghusl” and shrouding are done, the deceased’s coffin is taken to the mosque for the funeral prayer “Salat al-Janazah,” which is a communal duty among Muslims.

The deceased person is put in front of the imam and the community behind him faces to the “qibla,” the direction of Mecca, in the courtyard of the mosque. When the prayer ends, the casket should be transported to the cemetery for burial. The body should be placed in the grave on its right side, facing the qibla. A layer of wood is placed over the corpse and then the soil is filled. Following the burial service, the family of the deceased accepts visitors at home.

On the other hand, Jewish funerals take place at synagogues. A Jew who is a Cohen, a descendant of the priestly class, does not join the burial unless the deceased is a close relative since he is forbidden to come near the corpse. A Cohen is commanded to be in state of purity and avoid ritual defilement by a corpse which is ritually unclean.

Women wear conservative apparel and men wear jackets in dark color. The service is held by the rabbi and begins by cutting a black ribbon to symbolize the person’s leaving loved ones.

After the funeral service, people go to the cemetery where men carry the casket. With prayers, the deceased is put in the grave with the casket. Mourners tear their garments as an expression of grief, which is called “keriah.” They keep on doing it during the first mourning process called “shiva” which lasts seven days. In “shiva” mourners keep the traditions such as covering mirrors and lighting candles. People visit the home of bereaved. There the “kaddish” prayer is recited.

Once a Catholic dies, the priest visits the home with a cross and a vessel of holy water to sprinkle over the deceased’s body. There is no washing or bathing but embalming is acceptable. It is also an appropriate way for the viewing and wake and vigil, which is a period of spending time with deceased before the funeral service at home or a funeral home. Relatives and friends of the deceased come, praying and sharing the grief of the immediate family. This is the most appropriate time to eulogize as the “Requiem Mass” (Catholic Church service) does not permit eulogies.

During the wake, the body is put on display in a casket. When the casket is brought to the church, the priest leads the funeral mass. Holy water is sprinkled and there is an opening song and prayer, and a sermon takes place from the Bible and a psalm. When the mass is completed the coffin is taken to the graveyard for the rite of committal.

For Eastern Orthodox Christians, there are differences in the funeral service compared to Catholics. When an Orthodox is about to die, the priest should be there to hear the final confession and administer the “Holy Communion” to the person. The first step is preparing the body that includes washing and clothing. When the body is bathed and dressed, the priest sprinkles the holy water on the four sides of the casket before the body is placed inside. The priest reads the first “Panikhida” (a prayer service). The wake lasts three days and during this, the “Psalter” (The book of Psalms) is read out loud by family and friends.

After this, the body is brought to a church in a form of procession led by the cross. There the coffin is opened and a bowl of “Koliva” (a dish of boiled wheat with honey) is placed with a candle on top, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life and the sweetness of heaven. A cross is placed in the deceased’s hand. Lit candles are distributed to those present in the funeral. The priest leads the “Divine Liturgy,” and recites “Memory Eternal.” Although saying goodbye differs in every society, from the preparation of the deceased to the disposal, the arrangements and funeral services in between actually show us all these funerary customs are important as much as for the bereaved of the deceased. The importance given to funerals is universal for honoring the deceased and consoling and sharing the pain of loss as well at the end of the day.

Complete Article HERE!

Things not to say to mourners (and some things you can do instead)

by Esther D. Kustanowitz


When friends announce on Facebook that a loved one needs prayers, or is in the hospital, or that they’re going through a hard time, I get a sinking feeling. And while recovery sometimes happens, sometimes, it doesn’t. So when I read, “I am heartbroken to announce …,” my heart breaks, and the pain of my own loss reawakens, in sympathy for the end of a life and for what is to follow for those still with us — a year mourning the loss through text, ritual and the communal embrace that is vital, but stands in contrast with grief’s frequent companion: a stark and searing sense of solitude.

Death is part of the organic fabric of life, our liturgy tells us, arriving sometimes in a timely manner and sometimes in a shocking and unexpected instant years or decades too soon. But regardless of the individual circumstances surrounding a loss, family members and friends are left to mourn and to try to move through the grief to live their lives in a new normal.

Jewish rituals provide a year of structure for rudderless mourners, with customs that encourage communal engagement while acknowledging that the year is one in which the mourner is set apart from and different than the embracing community. While this state traditionally lasts a prescribed year, in emotional reality, it tends to linger. Five years after my mother’s death, when people check in on me, I’m grateful; Judaism says that I have been done with mourning for the span of a college education, but that doesn’t mean I’m back to the me I was before. It doesn’t mean that my mother’s absence from the world doesn’t affect me anymore. It’s just different.

I remember those first few months, and how many people, hoping to utter words of comfort, instead spewed forth words of frustration, anger, pain and even insensitivity. They were probably as appalled as I was, but I know — and I hope they know that I know — that their hearts were in the right place. I believe they were so concerned about saying the wrong thing that they often said something even less appropriate.

Each mourner is different. Each grief circumstance is different. Each person finds comfort differently, in different gestures and phrases. But here are seven things — in honor of the traditional seven days of shivah — that everyone should try to avoid saying, along with a few things you can do or say instead to express your love and concern for someone who is experiencing a loss.

Avoid awkward moments engaging the mourner, conversationally or physically. There’s a tradition to leave the conversational initiative entirely to the bereaved, to wait until he or she wants to speak. Some mourners crave the physical embrace of community, while others prefer a spiritual support and company, but not literal embraces (especially from virtual strangers). While challenging to all of us who love words and fear silence, or who are more inclined toward long and crushing hugs to convey what’s in our hearts, sitting quietly in a room next to someone who is grieving can send a powerful, wordless message of presence and support (even if you don’t touch).

“Read” the mourner and be mindful of your relationship with him or her. Are you a close friend, whose embrace the mourner may be expecting, or are you an acquaintance who hugs as an alternative to conversation? If you’re concerned about the potential awkwardness of your physical or verbal interaction, ask the rabbi or a relative what kind of support the mourner may want. You can also ask the mourners if they would like a hug, and don’t be offended if they say no — not everyone wants to be touched by everyone.

Avoid commentary about the illness or the last moments of the deceased. “At least your loved one’s suffering is over” falls into a category of things that people inside and outside the immediate family may think quietly, especially if the deceased has been through a long or public illness, but should not say. Similarly, “at least s/he didn’t suffer,” or “what a blessing that it happened so fast.” You are not the coroner, so don’t offer your opinion on the cause of death or its nature. Instead, sit quietly with the mourner for a while — if there’s an appropriate opening, gently ask the mourner to share their favorite memories or most memorable moments.

Avoid making comments about the afterlife. In some religious communities, it’s comforting to devout people to think about their loved one being “in a better place,” “taking his place at God’s side” or (as I’ve heard religious Christians say) “going to Jesus.” But, emotionally, most mourners do not find comfort in this concept (especially “God needed another angel”). Is there an afterlife? Heaven? Hell? Olam ha-ba, where you study Talmud all day? No one knows; there are too many theological and emotional potholes in grief’s road to cover over with religious speculation about the afterlife. Instead, focus on this life: “I hope the community is the right kind of supportive when you need it. And I’m always available to help you.” (More on this in the next paragraph.)

Avoid: “Is there anything I can do?” Think about the vastness of the word “anything,” and the one thing it cannot include: the return of the lost loved one. Also, offers to help are something mourners receive in abundance at funerals and at shivah, but as time goes on, the offers trickle down to nothing. A year in, people who haven’t been through a loss themselves may assume you’re “fine.” And while you probably will be functional to some degree, at least, you’re probably not “fine.” Instead, if you’re offering assistance, get specific — grocery shopping, picking up kids from school or activities, baby-sitting so that the mourner can have some personal time. Specific offers give the mourner a chance to say “yes” or “no, thanks,” but without challenging them to think deeply about what they need and what you can and cannot provide. And if you’re a friend who really wants to be supportive, offer assistance even after shivah, or during the year of mourning, or beyond, after the offers have faded away but the need for support remains.

Avoid judgmental commentary about the funeral, the shivah or about how the mourner is grieving. 

In many communities, there is variation in how people participate in mourning rituals. For instance, traditionally, shivah is held for seven days (shiv’ah means “seven” in Hebrew) for a close blood relative (parent, sibling or, God forbid, a child) or a spouse, and in a designated year of mourning, traditionally mourners abstain from “celebration.” But some (especially the non-Orthodox) are altering these traditions to fit their lives: sitting shivah for an aunt, uncle or grandparent, or only observing a few days of shivah. People want to connect to Jewish meaning and tradition, but not necessarily in a strictly Orthodox halachic framework. Saying things like “you’re not supposed to” or “not allowed to” grieve in a specific way is counter-supportive: The function of shivah, in particular, is to help the community gather around a mourner for support, not criticize the depth of their feelings or the minutiae of their approach to mourning. So don’t render a judgment as to whether it’s appropriate or halachic. Instead, if you’ve ever been on the inside of a year of mourning, you can offer, “If you ever want to know what helped me, I’m happy to share.” And if you haven’t been, just be there and listen.

Avoid over-empathizing with the mourner’s experience and emotional state. While this comes from a good place, saying, “I know exactly what you’re going through” minimizes the intensity of the mourner’s emotional state and shifts the conversation to being about you. For most mourners, especially at funerals and during shivah, this is not comforting; it’s a negation of their special status in that space. Occasionally, people double down on these kinds of statements, following up with an anecdote about a deceased pet or another “loss” story that isn’t equivalent — because no story of loss is ever really equivalent. Instead, saying, “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you,” or “I know it’s not the same, but I have some experience with loss if you ever want to talk,” is a better approach.

Avoid using shivah as an excuse to badmouth the community or its members. While this might seem a simple enough thing to avoid, the essential awkwardness that people feel when trying to comfort a community member may result in people blurting out things that are unintentionally hurtful. This may include criticizing the eulogies or the funeral service, or gossiping about the community’s failure to let everyone know the funeral was happening. Listen to the mourner. That’s why you’re there, to offer presence, an ear, and words of consolation when you have them. In most cases, that’s enough.

May we all know only simchas. But in the unfortunately inevitable event of a tragedy, let us focus our love and respect on the needs of those who are in the center of the grief circle, and may we as community members take seriously the sacred privilege of helping those who suffer to know that they are not alone.

Complete Article HERE!