My father passed away on Feb. 15th, 2013. In another entry, I will tell you more about my father and the legacy that he left not only for me but for countless others who were touched by his wisdom and his generosity of spirit. But for today, I will write about the process of Shiva, the Jewish week of mourning that was created by a Higher Power who clearly understood the intricacies of the human spirit and psyche.
When you have lost a loved one, particularly a parent, no matter how much you believe that you are prepared for the event, the truth is that you are not. A friend recently shared how she conceptualized grief as a greedy ambusher, ready to strike when you are the least prepared. The Jewish law around issues of death, takes into consideration the vulnerability of the human spirit and embraces with clear guidelines and rules. If you choose to follow (and I did) there are defined codes of conduct. You are instructed what to wear (the same clothes from the funeral for 7 days), what to eat (hard- boiled egg to indicate the completion of the circle of life), and even how to sit (on a chair that is lower than all others who sit as they are visiting you). Some may baulk at what they see are excessive restrictions to a person's personal sense of freedom. But, for me, when your mind is fogged with lack of sleep and a sadness that up to now I did not know that I had the capacity to experience, the rigid rules of the mourner provide a comfort , a way to not have to think when you really do not have the capacity nor desire to do anything more than follow the directions that have already been established for you. The 7 days of Shiva also provides you with the time necessary to begin the process of healing from your loss. The process encourages the community at large to come to the mourner's home and sit with them, create a relationship by sharing moments in time where stories of the deceased can be told or retold. It provides a kind of cocoon which again recognizes the ultimate fragility and strength of the human spirit. Shiva, and the subsequent Shloshim period (30 days following the death) as well as the 11 months following are not meant for the person who has lost a loved one to stay in bed forever. On the contrary, the process demands the active participation of all parties, the mourner and the community, with an underlying message that yes, the world continues to go on and we will help ease you back into your life with a kindness that recognizes the rhythm and rigors of life.
My journey is only beginning. At times, grief washes over me as one would experience a huge ocean wave. But, I am not set adrift. I have been provided an anchor within my community, within the rigors of Shiva that steadies me and allows me to go forward.