A few weeks ago, I was invited to “sit shiva”. I was feeling a little nervous; I mean, just exactly how does one sit shiva? Does it require a certain ritual, dress, or customs of which I am not aware? I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I am clearly not Jewish.
I called my friend, Gloria, who is also not Jewish, but lives in an assisted living facility in which the vast majority of the residents are. Plus, she is 92 years old, and therefore has had numerous opportunities to attend funerals, Jewish or otherwise. She said, “All you have to do is show up.” Now, doing a little further research, I learn there may be more to it than just showing up, such as perhaps entering the room quietly and not initiating conversation. But the shiva was for the husband of my friend Barbara, who is the most kind, loving, and laid-back person I have ever met. I knew my presence would be enough.
So, here is what sitting shiva entails, at least here is what this shiva entailed. First, there was a lot of food. But second, and more importantly, it involved Barbara sitting in a big comfortable chair. We, the attendees, were invited to sit in one of the chairs which were arranged in the circle. Visitors came and went, and stayed as long as they wished. Barbara got to talk about her husband, telling whatever stories came to mind. She told us about his last hours of life. She told us how they met. She told us endearing stories of their lives together. She showed us photos and drawings of the two of them over the years. She had a captive audience; an audience that could hear her experiences, and honestly share in her grief.
I belong to the Lutheran faith. Our funerals are respectful, but, compared to this, very hands-off. Usually there is a visitation. The visitors hug the family members, express sorrow for their loss, and move on, chatting with other folks they have not seen in a while. The funeral is often sad and memorable, and the luncheon afterward is a chance for loved ones to catch up. It’s all very nice.
But, still, the intimacy I felt at this shiva was so unlike anything I have ever felt at a funeral service. I barely know Barbara (we’ve just recently become friends), but now I feel I know her better. In a real way. I know the love she and her husband shared. And the incredible sadness she must be feeling every day.
So, when I die, or someone I love dies, allow me the opportunity to sit shiva, or something like it. I want everyone to know me, and the people I love, and to truly share in my grief.