What does one do?


Last night I marked the 6th yartzeit for MY MOM. As I was looking through pictures I started to think about memories of those horrendous days following her death and maybe a few of them could help to inform actions you might think about taking when you learn of a death or, God forbid, someone you love dies unexpectedly.

There were so many bagels. When MY DAD, MY SISTER, and I returned to Minnesota where my parents live (long story, not relevant here), the doorbell did not stop ringing. And it seemed that every time the door bell rang there were more bagels. Friends were sending food to us so that we did not need to think about anything other than mourning. Whether it is bagels (easily freezable!), something that can be frozen, or a meal of consolation following the funeral or during the shiva period, providing meals brings tremendous comfort. It is immensely helpful if someone can coordinate all of that food (there are apps and online services like meal train.com that make it really easy). Are there food allergies, does one family really need 100 bagels? Maybe you can be the person to coordinate the food for the family so they have what they need.  

Showing up matters. I will never forget the names and faces of the people that showed up, some even from out of town. Though I was not in a place for meaningful conversations and my capability for such conversations was virtually non-existent I will never forget the people who showed up because that is what matters most. How can you be the one to show up when someone you know, maybe not even that well, experiences a loss? Can you go to the funeral, shiva, or other appropriate gathering? Can you go to coffee and ask caring questions about the deceased? 

It is never too late to send a note or card. Remember snail mail? You know, that stuff that you used to get that brought news like your college acceptance letters, your SAT scores, and the opportunity to win the Publisher’s Clearning House? Condolence notes have not and will never go out of fashion. The note does not have to be long, it is okay to used the word ‘died’ and it will make a difference.

You want a clergy person. Whatever your faith or tradition, you want someone to guide you through the mourning rites. If you are a person of no faith do you have a cultural heritage that might inform a memorial/funeral? Trust me. You want someone to guide you through. Pro-tip, do not finalize the time of your service before you speak to your clergy person of choice. I cannot emphasize this enough. 

If you’re Jewish, the markers in time are immensely helpful. There is shiva, sheloshim and the yearly yartzeit.  It is also customary after the death of a first-degree relative; spouse, mother, father, sibling or child, to attend Yizkor services on Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot. These times of memory and healing, and the familiar rhythm of the Mourner’s Kaddish recited at the funeral and at a variety of services can bring comfort. There are a variety of reasons that people eschew these ritual moments, however, in my experience both personally and professionally it is damaging. Yes there are lots of ways to remember and each person will find the ways that are appropriate for him/her, however there is something about the rich Jewish tradition and being in community that ought not to be an either/or. Judaism ought to be a both/and. Wear her favorite perfume AND go to Shabbat services to say the Kaddish. Drink “his” drink AND light a yartzeit candle. 

There is no one size fits all when it comes to mourning. Grieving takes navigating and it can be exhausting and overwhelming. You do not have to do it alone. 

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About rabbisteinman

I am a rabbi living in North America. I was ordained from HUC-JIR. This is my blog.
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