Shiva is the Jewish period of mourning. It is typically observed by the mourning family for 7 days, however, some people observe for fewer days.
- There are typically hours posted for visiting during the shiva. It is customary to only visit during these times. If the door to the home is unlocked, just let yourself in, no need to knock or ring the bell. It is customary for the immediate mourning family members to sit on a low chair without cushions. If the home you are visiting has these, keep in mind they are reserved for the mourners.
- Remember it is a somber occasion so dress with that in mind. Something conservative and respectful will always work. Wearing black is not necessarily, just nothing too flashy or revealing.
- There is no need to bring anything to a shiva. But if you want to bring something, don’t bring flowers. Instead shivas have a rotation of meals that are typically organized by friends, family and the community that you can contribute to. Or you can bring something sweet like a cake or pastries or a dried fruit and nuts tray.
- Share memories of the deceased with the mourners. In a shiva environment, it is custom to talk about the deceased, share memories and if you never met them, ask questions to learn more.
- It is important not to overstay your welcome. While the mourners greatly appreciate your visit, it can also be very tiring for them. With that in mind, keep visits short. Make them meaningful, give them your love and warmth.
- There is no need to feel pressured to ‘say something’. It is actually Jewish custom not to speak until the mourner speakers to you. As well, sometimes when someone is in deep emotional pain, words are not comforting. Your presence and willingness to listen is what they need most.
One really important thing to remember is that when the shiva is over the hard part really begins for the mourner. It is when they will have a lot more time to face their grief without the company of loved ones. This is where you can be proactive and support them. A couple of suggestions for when the shiva is over is to bring over dinner, call regularly. Don’t ask what they need. Asking someone ‘what can I do to help’ almost always leads to the same answer: nothing. Tell them what you want to do and they will graciously decline if that is not what they want.