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  • Writer's pictureAnne Brest

SENSITIVITY at a House of Mourning

by ANNE LAPEDUS BREST


I once heard Rabbi Lewis Furman (Jhb. South Africa) saying in one of his Shiurim (talks) “when you visit a Shiva House, (House of Mourning) it is preferable to keep quiet, and to not speak, and rather wait until the Mourner speaks first. This is Halacha” (Jewish Law)


I was inspired to write this after visiting a friend who was “Sitting Shiva” for his 85 year old Father. In the entire time I was there, he poured his heart out to me about how the well meaning visitors to his home, had upset him greatly, rather than comfort him. He said people spoke without thinking, said all the wrong things. On hearing that his Father had reached the ripe old age of 85 years they would all say, one after the other “Oh, well, he had a good innings”!! I don’t think I understand what that is supposed to mean? Does it mean that he had a good innings, and now he’s OUT? And this is what people are telling his bereft son?


And what did people mean when they said to my grief-torn friend who lost her 10 year old son “Oh well Life goes on”?? Well don’t we all know that of course, life goes on, but for the devastated parents, it goes on without their lovely son? Or the well worn platitude “you have to be strong you have a husband and daughter, they need you now”. After the Shiva well-meaning friends would ask “are you over it?” (Over it??) And please watch out for this one - telling the family to be happy because “because he’s gone to a better place now” - because his family didn’t want him to go anywhere.


And try telling the bereaved “at least he isn’t suffering anymore” because they are wondering why he had to suffer in the first place. One of the most “popular” turn of phrases was “Oh, Well, at least you had him for 10 years”! (What year would you choose to have your child die??)


Don’t people realize that they are actually upsetting the Mourners, rather than comforting them by their insensitivity? It is insensitive and inappropriate to use clichés and well-worn platitudes to people who are torn apart by their grief. Time does not necessarily heal all wounds, and no parents who have lost a child, are ever the same.


And if a man has lived to the wonderful age of 85, his children often do not find comfort in the fact that he “had a good innings”, or “he’s gone to a better place”. These are not words of comfort to a Mourner.


When visiting a Shiva House, why do people feel they have to say anything at all??. Don’t they realize that just their presence alone, is a comfort to the mourner? Perhaps people feel embarrassed and they feel they ought to be offering something verbally profound, pearls of wisdom as it were, but instead, all they are doing is upsetting, hurting and causing the Mourner pain.

All these little platitudes are meaningless anyway. What do people mean when they say “life goes on”? That is a statement of the obvious and does absolutely nothing to help the Mourner. It’s almost like saying “cheer up” or “pull yourself together”. I have never understood these statements. Don’t you think that if people could “pull themselves together”, they would? Another old favourite - Are you feeling better??? ( Are they really expecting the bereaved to say “ Oh yes, I feel better, I feel wonderful, on top of the world!!” ) (Bereavement is not condition which will just clear up)


And why do people say “I know how you feel” People have no idea how anyone feels unless they too have lost a child, they have absolutely no idea at all how the bereaved parents feel? So why say it?


I know that everyone means well, but perhaps it would be advantageous to re-think what to “not say” in a house of Mourning. Rather take your cue from the Mourners, and don’t rush in gushing about how wonderful the deceased was. WAIT. Don’t feel the need to “speak”, or to offer words of wisdom, you are not comforting the mourner. Everyone says the same thing, the mourner hears it repeatedly, and the words are meaningless.


Please don’t (emotionally) bully the Mourners by telling them what they “have to do”, how they “have to be strong”.


Be gentle with Mourners, they don’t “have to do” anything, “be anything” “feel anything” that they don’t want to do.


This is not about YOU trying to be of comfort, this is about the Mourners. Please be very gentle with them.


You don’t have to speak at all, just “be” there for them, and they will feel your support. PLEASE don’t try to tell them how to feel, or remind them how strong they have to be. They don’t have to be strong. They only want to stop feeling pain.


You are comforting the Mourner by your very presence, rather than by your words.


Anne Lapedus Brest. (Ex Dublin, Ireland), Sandton, S.Africa


Contact details.

Cel: 082 452 7166


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