The meal sign-up sheet for the Bucklins got me thinking about my mom. Ever since my little brother headed off to start his studies at West Point this summer, I’ve gotten random calls from my mom as she heads to funerals for people we don’t really know. In July it was the funeral for 1st Lt. Christopher Goeke (of blessed memory), a West Point grad who was killed in Afghanistan. Plenty of other West Point parents were going, so I didn’t think much other than “wow, she sure has a lot of free time on her hands now that G is off at school.” But a few weeks ago, she checked in on her way to a funeral for the child of an acquaintance from her high school days. Sure, some of Mom’s friends were also going, but it still seemed a little weird – especially since the young woman had died from suicide. This time I asked her why she felt the need to go. “It’s what we do, Emily,” she said, “we go to provide support and to comfort.” Her reply made me realize that my not-Jewish-but-so-ridiculously-Jewy mother was busy making…shiva calls*. Not because she wanted people around her to think she was some kind of righteous person, but because she knew that it was something that could be done when there’s nothing else to say or do.
Maybe it is a bit weird that my mom sometimes goes to funerals for people she is only tangentially connected to. But maybe it’s not so crazy. When I Googled “shiva call for strangers,” I came across this Aish.com article about a woman who made a shiva call to a family she didn’t know after the 2001 terrorist attack at a Sbarro in Jerusalem. The last line of her piece rang so true “sometimes a warm embrace, even from a stranger, is not at all strange.”
I’m not saying that I’ll be scanning the obituaries anytime soon, but I certainly will think twice the next time I think I should stay away from a funeral or shouldn’t make a shiva call because I didn’t know the deceased “well enough.” What about you?
P.S. If you’re not entirely sure how to make a shiva call, MyJewishLearning.com has a pretty good overview.
The best thing about a blog? It’s interactive. Have another good link to tips for making a shiva call? Share it! Have thoughts on the halacha concerning comforting mourners? Spill – we’d love to learn with you.
*Yes, I realize that “shiva call” isn’t probably the best term but it’s what popped into my head as I was reflecting on our conversation.
I just finished a class on how to lead a shiva minyan, so I expect to be going to the shiva of several people I don’t know in the coming year.
In the past, I’ve gone for a couple of people who I didn’t know well, and they seemed to appreciate it. It’s a bonding experience, and I have felt closer to them ever since.
I attended a funeral for the brother of a friend from junior high. Not only was the friend surprised and grateful, but her parents were even more so — it felt like they saw us and remembered their son being younger, the last time we were all together. I had apprehensions about going, and after hugging their mom, it was obvious that going was the right choice.
In addition to calls or attending the funeral, a card is also always appreciated, particularly because the bereaved may not be up for making small talk, but still conveys your warmth and concern.
Susan – What an amazing opportunity to take a class like that. Leading services isn’t for me, but I’ve often thought about other ways that I could be help.
Sara – Good call on the card. It doesn’t take much to let somebody know you’re thinking of them, but we don’t take the time often enough. Thanks for the reminder.