Shiva, The First Period of Mourning

Shiva means seven and is the period of mourning immediately following the burial. The day of burial counts as the first day of Shiva, and continues seven days. Although no public mourning is observed on Shabbat, the Sabbath and Holidays count in the seven days. Many festivals affect the observance Shiva and your rabbi will be best qualified to explain how they affect your particular situation. For example, some festivals cancel the observance of Shiva completely, and some festivals postpone the beginning of Shiva. Under special circumstances the observance of Shiva is for fewer than the Traditional seven days; your rabbi will be in position to advise you in your particular situation.

During Shiva, mourners remain at home and the community comes and offers comfort to the mourners. The only time a mourner is supposed to leave the home is on Shabbat, to attend services in the Synagogue. During the Shiva period, the community comes into the mourner’s home and it is there that the three daily (morning, afternoon, and evening) services are held. The Kaddish prayer is recited during these services. It is interesting to note how much comfort is derived from the recitation of the Kaddish prayer (see my article on Kaddish in my blog).

The atmosphere in the house of mourning should be one of dignity and one should avoid creating a party atmosphere during Shiva. Talk is focused on the deceased. Shiva should be a time to remember with fondness, many of the events of which the deceased was a part. Often we think that talking about the deceased and remembering events and happenings will be upsetting to the mourners. Out of our discomfort we avoid talking about the memories we have of the deceased. In fact, the contrary is true. Mourners find comfort in hearing stories about their loved one and although they may “seem” overwhelmed and upset, they would much prefer people talk about their loved one.

It is understandable that we are nervous and uncomfortable when we are in the presence of mourners. We need to learn how to become more at ease when tragedy strikes those around us. Part of our uneasiness comes from not knowing what to say to a person in grief. More often than not, it’s not anything we might say that brings solace to our grieving friends. Rather it is simply our presence that lets people know we care and are concerned for their welfare.