When a loved one dies, families and friends need comfort and support. There are often many decisions to be made amidst a time of emotional and spiritual needs. Our congregation, staff and Rabbi are here to be present with you. As a loved one’s death approaches, as you are faced with decisions about funeral arrangements or hospice care, at the time of a death, and in the days, weeks, and months of mourning that follow.
What To Do When a Death Occurs
Funeral Home and Funeral Arrangements:
There are no exclusively Jewish funeral homes in our area, but a few are familiar and experienced with Jewish funerals and Jewish customs.
Montlawn Funeral Home (919) 772-1073
Brown-Wynne Funeral Home (919) 828-4311
The funeral home will help you in scheduling a time for the funeral. In Jewish tradition, the funeral is typically scheduled for the earliest possible time, provided that it allows for all needed arrangements to be made, and for family and friends to be present. Burial is not permitted on Shabbat or most Jewish holidays.
If you have already made arrangements with a funeral home, they will also help you in contacting the Rabbi and scheduling the funeral. Please do not schedule a funeral service without calling us to ensure that our Rabbi will be available at the desired time.
Preparation for Burial (Tahara)
Generally speaking, Jewish custom is not to embalm the body in any way, unless it is necessary (for transportation to another city or country). We also, out of respect for the deceased, do not have any public viewing as part of the funeral service.
The second part of the funeral service is the internment. The coffin is lowered into the grave and the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited. This prayer does not mention death or the person who has died, but praises God as the source of life and peace. Customarily family and friends come forward after the Mourner’s Kaddish to place earth over the coffin. Then the service is concluded, and mourners depart.
For the majority of funerals, the entire service is held at graveside. However, it is also possible to have the first part of the funeral at a funeral home. As part of the conversations with him, Rabbi Edery will help to guide you through all the details and choices you will need to care for at this time.
While Jews are encouraged for all these reasons, and more, to provide a burial for their deceased loved ones, at Beth Shalom we want to help and support the mourners also when a different path – such as cremation – is chosen. When you discuss these matters with our Rabbi, several ways of accomplishing the goals of tradition and the needs of mourning will be found.
Our Mitzvah Committee, a group of volunteers, coordinates the support and care for families and individuals during these times. They will help our Office and Rabbi to coordinate the Shivah services. This group is currently led by Rhonda Levy.
About Jewish Mourning Customs:
Mourning and grieving for a loved one is a very personal and intimate experience for each of us. Yet, Jewish tradition outlines a set of rituals and a process for mourning. These rituals of mourning are designed both to honor the deceased and their memory, and to assist one through the grieving process, gradually moving from pain towards healing.
We encourage you to consult with the Rabbi as you decide in what ways you would like to observe these mourning customs. Know that there is not one “right” way to follow these rituals; they were established to serve the needs of the mourners and to honor the deceased, and so each family may observe them in different ways depending upon their specific needs, circumstances and customs.
Already in Biblical times mourners took the first seven days (“Shivah” means “seven” in Hebrew) after the death as days of mourning. The immediate mourners (spouse, parents, siblings, children) would then suspend their usual routines, and perform further rituals to express their sadness and to honor the deceased, and to allow the community to offer them comfort and support. These customs have varied and changed over time, as times and communities have changed.
While the traditional length of Shivah is seven days, the practice in Reform Jewish communities varies. Some families choose to sit Shivah for one, two, or three evenings, each choosing what is more appropriate for their own circumstances and situation. In each case the choice on how to mark the Shivah should be made considering many factors, such as whether the death occurred in town or out-of-town, if relatives are here or what their travelling needs are, and other particular family situations. Beth Shalom will ensure that the Rabbi or a capable congregant be available to lead a minyan on the evenings the family is sitting Shivah.
Generally, these are the practices observed: mourners light a memorial candle during Shivah; mourners mark and express outwardly their mourning status, as when sitting on lower seats when gathered with others, or wearing their rent clothes; mourners do not engage in work or routine chores; extended family and friends generally bring food to comfort the mourners, providing both practical help and emotional support; and some choose to cover the mirrors in the house, perhaps as a reminder that external appearances do not matter during this time. In the evening, there may be a Shivah Minyan (a prayer service) including the mourner’s recitation of Kaddish. One does not sit Shivah on Shabbat or on holidays.
Visiting a House of Mourning
Traditionally, when visiting a home in which mourners are sitting Shivah, it is not necessary to ring the doorbell or for the mourners to greet visitors. Generally it is a good idea to follow the mourner’s conversation. If they want to be silent, remain silent, and if they want to talk about something, join with them. The most important part is to be present and show support. It is also customary to send or bring food to the house of mourning. The Mitzvah Community helps to coordinate this.
Seven “Tips” About Attending Shivah
While every shiva, every loss and each mourner are unique, here are seven “mourner’s tips” to help all make this hard days meaningful and helpful.
- Even if you did not know the deceased, but you know and respect the mourner, pay a shiva call. People sometimes feel that they may be disturbing the mourner. “I’m not that close,” they think, “I shouldn’t interfere.” But it’s the only seven days they will ever be sitting for that particular loved one, and they want desperately to share stories and photos with just about anyone who will listen. Your presence is exactly what they need.
- You only need to stay a short time. If the mourner is tired or needs to eat, simply excuse yourself. They will remember you came, even if only for five minutes.
- You do not need to say a word. Just offer a hug or a hand. Let the mourner start the conversation or simply sit next to them and be supportive. This is not the time to share your troubles with them; it doesn’t make them feel better to know someone else is also hurting. This is a time only to reflect, remember, and be there for someone else.
- You do not need to “cheer them up.” You do not need to fill the silence with chatter. You do not need to offer answers to an anguished “why” or a sorrowful sigh. You can simply say, “Yes, it’s so difficult. I understand.”
- Kids should come. Bring them. There isn’t anything scary about a shiva visit. Just have them come up to the mourners and say, “Hello. I am so sorry for your loss.” That’s all. Having them there affirms that life is still beautiful, positive, and optimistic.
- Offering to bring a meal the night before the funeral is an amazing act of kindness. If you do pay a shiva call, consider bringing snacks: fruit, nuts, healthy things the mourner can munch during the day when they don’t feel like having a full meal. If you do offer a meal, be sure to stay afterwards to clean up. If you come for evening minyan, find a way to help tidy up after. The mourner’s family will be as exhausted at the end of the day as they are. And meals and invitations after the shiva are still deeply appreciated, as the mourner and their family may still be in a daze many days after. Nothing magic happens after shiva officially ends, and mourners don’t go back to “normal” quickly.
If you are unable to pay a shiva call, do not feel awkward phoning or sending a card, an email, or a donation, or sharing condolences when you see the mourner days, weeks, or even months afterward. One of the worst moments for a mourner is when the calls, cards, emails, and sympathies stop. As long as people offer condolences, the mourner still feels like their loved one – and their sense of loss – is being acknowledged. In fact, it’s often after the shiva that the real loneliness sets in. You are still needed, whether or not you paid a shiva call.
The loss of a loved one is not temporary. It is forever. We are sustained by friendship, family, and community long after our mourning days are over. Our loved ones live on when we share not only what their life taught us, but what their loss continues to teach us.
Rabbi Edery is available to officiate at unveiling ceremonies. However, it is not required to have a rabbi present for this ceremony. Our Rabbi may also assist you in preparing readings, or planning a ceremony you and your family may lead on your own, or out-of-town, as you prefer.