Thursday, July 12, 2007

Know Your Jewish Community: Grieving

Recently a number of people who have written in to Ask Amy (their first mistake) about grief etiquette. You see, they have lost someone, and some of their friends/family haven't said anything to them at all, or acknowledged the loss.

Amy says: "People don't intend to wound you or make your loss more difficult through their inaction. They're just doing what people do best: nothing."

I agree with her first point, that the people don't intend to hurt the mourner, but I firmly disagree with the second. I know (from personal experience) that often when someone makes an overture to a mourner the conversation ends up being about the overture maker. They want the mourner to acknowledge their grief, or to comfort them, or a million other things. Other people say nothing because they don't know what to say, or because they don't want to impose themselves on the mourner.

I fully support this last course of action. I'm fairly private about my emotions (blog notwithstanding), I don't like to show them in public, because I think that it shows a lack of control. I also don't like to be touched, so those hugs that some people think are helpful, really make uncomfortable. And I'm sure that I'm not the only one that feels this way. I'd rather be seen as cold than intrusive.

At any rate, I think that Judaism backs me up on this one. If you go to pay a shiva call*, you're supposed to wait until the mourner speaks to you, and then to let them take charge of the conversation. One of the worst things to do is to force them to talk about "their feelings." You can support them in other ways, by bringing food, so that they don't have to cook, by running their errands, or in some cases in-kind donations of labor or services.

I understand that this poor woman from Ask Amy has lost a great deal in the last few years, and that she is lonely and in need of support, but she should ask for it, as no one is a mind reader. And instead of assuming that the friends are lazy or careless, maybe that they are trying to give her some space and let her direct the relationship to fit her needs.

*Shiva call, during the first seven days after a funeral, the immediate family sits "shiva" (meaning seven) in a house. They don't leave, and the community is responsible for providing services for them (such as bringing food, providing enough people for a prayer quorum so that the mourners can recite the mourners' prayer) and visiting during this time. It is part of the very structured grief rituals of Judaism, which start with the funeral and go on for an entire year. Each designed to help the mourner re-acclimate to society, while recognizing their grief and loss.

1 comment:

Jack's Shack said...

I'm fairly private about my emotions (blog notwithstanding),because I think that it shows a lack of control.

That is a fine line to try and walk.