Shiva House Guide – Making a Condolence Call to a Mourner’s House
Unfortunately, my father passed away this month. For the first time, I was a mourner.
Little did I know there’s a whole sub-culture to the mourning process. Here’s some advice from a recent mourner on what to do and what not to do at a Shiva house.
1. Don’t ask how old the deceased was or how did he die. Get that info from someone else if you must know.
2. Don’t say “well at least he lived a long life”.
3. Do offer to tell nice stories about the deceased.
4. Do offer to help serve, take out garbage, etc…
5. Don’t come to tell the mourners about your problems.
6. Don’t stay for a long time unless the mourner specifically asks you to. Don’t jump in and leave in two minutes either.
7. Do come to as many minyanim as possible. The mourners have enough things to worry about.
8. Do ask about the mourners (surviving) family and catch up on old times.
9. Don’t ask for many details about the deceased and how he passed.
10. Don’t network with other visitors on business or jobs unless out of sight and ear of the mourners.
I was most-sensitive to number two on this list. My father lived to 86 years old. On the outside, one can say “well, he lived a long life”. But to a son, and especially during the mourning period, these words are painful and ambivalent at best. When your parent lives to 86, you want them to live to 96. At 96, you were hoping for 120.
The other more obvious observation – don’t come to a shiva house to share your depressing life with the mourners. They have enough on their heads to also have to play armchair psychologist in ragged clothes.
As with anything, these points serve as a guideline. Obviously, let the mourner guide your conversation. If they want to discuss the details of the death, then by all means do discuss it.
Some shiva houses see many hundreds of visitors during the week. Try to time your visit when it’s not too crowded. The mourner feels an obligation to speak with every visitor. If there are ten visitors encircling the mourner at once, it can become quite unnerving.
Above all, take your cue from the mourner.
I hope these points, although obvious to some, will help future mourners and visitors to be spared from unnecessary mixed feelings.