What is Sitting Shiva?
Shiva is the Jewish period of mourning observed the first week after the funeral
of a parent, spouse, sibling, or child.
From the time of death until the conclusion of the funeral, the primary focus and concern is on the care of the deceased and the burial preparations. Once shiva begins, the focus shifts to the mourners. The mourners experience a week of intense sadness, with family and friends giving love, support and attention to their needs. Judaism teaches us that when a member of our community feels the heart-wrenching pain of grief and loss, we should be there to comfort and console.
The home of a direct mourner is said to be filled with the spirit of the loved one who is now gone. Memories will come easily there, and part of the comfort of shiva is remembering the deceased by sharing stories of his or her life with friends and family. “Sitting shiva," is an emotionally and spiritually healing time where the mourners may dwell together and have friends and loved ones come to support them with short visits when they "make a shiva call." It is considered a great mitzvah (act of kindness) to visit someone "sitting shiva. "
It is important to know that all Jewish people do not mourn alike. Some may choose to observe traditional rites and customs meticulously while others may be more relaxed in their observance. Some families may not "sit shiva" for the entire seven days and the schedule may be adjusted to accomodate the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, when shiva practices are paused.
In the Jewish tradition, mourners may sit on low chairs or stools to symbolize an awareness that their life has changed, as well as their desire to be close to the earth in which their loved one was buried. In many homes the mirrors are covered and a memorial candle is lit. Orthodox Jews in mourning will refrain from wearing leather shoes, bathing, cutting their hair, shaving or changing clothes.
On the first day of sitting shiva, it is customary for mourners not to eat their own food. The first meal, which is called the "meal of condolence”, is usually supplied by neighbors and friends to express their desire to provide consolation. Another, deeper psychological reason lies behind this gesture. It is recognized that the mourners have just experienced the trauma of burying their loved one and eating signifies, "You must go on. You must affirm life and live.” It is a mitzvah for visitors to send prepared food to mourners, to assure there is plenty to eat as observant mourners may not cook or prepare food using heat. If the family observes traditional Jewish dietary laws only kosher foods should be sent.
When family, friends and the Jewish Community help by providing for the needs of mourners while they are sitting shiva, an atmosphere of love, caring and kindness is created.
This “shiva connection “ helps to soften the pain so deeply felt by those in mourning.