Consoling a mourner is one of those challenging situations that we would all rather avoid. But it’s an act of kindness and a great mitzvah, especially during the shiva week, the prescribed week of mourning that follows the funeral of a next of kin. And it’s not really so difficult: What’s really needed most is the fact that you are there.
Visit as often as your company will be appreciated and beneficial. A traditional shiva house has prayer services every morning and evening when kaddish is recited by the mourners—and a minyan [quorum of ten Jewish men] is required. Your attendance at these services will certainly be appreciated.
Have a seat next to the mourners. Allow them to speak first. Allow them to steer the conversation in whatever direction they wish. If they feel like crying, cry along; if you perceive that they want a break from crying, talk about the weather. All the while, look out for cues that you’ve sat long enough.
When that happens, stand up and say: “May G‑d console you, together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” (Hebrew Version), then quietly take your leave.
- Consider the somber atmosphere. Avoid greetings, welcomes and farewells.
- There’s no need to bring anything along; it’s your presence that comforts and consoles. If you do wish to bring something, think useful: something like a kosher meal for the mourners.
- We don’t say to a mourner, “What can you do? You can’t change the way the world works.” Once a life has perished, it is time to accept the Divine decree with love.
- Traditionally, we don’t make shiva visits on Shabbat.
- Sometimes consoling words aren’t enough. Was the deceased the family’s breadwinner? Start a fund for the family.
- Can’t make it for a personal visit? Make a telephone call or send your condolences in a card or email.