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I am a retired English teacher and department head, the mother of three, grand mother of three, and have been married to the same man for 42 years. I subscribe to Dr. PM Forni's concept of Civility. I was born in South Philadelphia and grew up in the 'burbs. I love soft pretzels and cheesesteaks, the Phillies, the Eagles, and San Diego. I love being Mom, Aunt Kathy, Nona Kathy, and Teacher. I spend a lot of time in my gardens in the spring and summer, and in the winter I plan what I'm going to plant. I also am an avid reader and photographer.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sitting Shiva

Thank you all for your condolences and prayers for Marty and Carol and their family. Marty was buried on Tuesday and because he was Jewish (Carol is not), the family sat shiva on Tuesday and on Wednesday. My part in this was to 'do the kitchen' -- as people brought in food Ady, Carol's principal and dear friend and I would put it out, consolidate trays, re-fill the ice bucket, greet guests, answer the phone, empty trash, and do whatever the family needed -- a labor of total love.

I like this idea of sitting shiva. As an Italian Catholic, I've experienced 'wakes' where it's hard to tell exactly who the deceased is because everyone throws themselves onto the casket. Seriously though, this is different in that the family has more time to mourn, certainly, but more importantly to re-connect. For those of you who are unacquainted with a shiva -- the activities vary according to the particular religious 'practice' of the family: orthodox, conservative, or reformed. The idea, however, is still the same: people openly mourn, but there is so much more positive going on than just mourning.

Carol and the family wear a torn ribbon on the right side of the chest (over the heart if the deceased is a child). The tear signifies the rent, the ripping of their hearts with loss. The mirrors are covered so that one does not concern himself with his or her appearance. Once, twice, or three times a day a minion is gathered and prayers are said that include the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. In between, the family receives guests. A washing basin and paper towels are placed by the front door which is unlocked. Jewish visitors wash their hands in the basin and then enter the house without ringing the bell or knocking. It is customary to bring sweets to the grieving family, and Carol's tables were laden with pies, cookies and wonderful goodies. Inside one pays her respects to the family and while this is a solemn occasion, it need not be a totally somber one. Carol's grand babies ( two years old and three months, respectively) were there as were my adult daughters and my grand daughter who is now one. Carol's grandson would continually and sweetly stroke the head of my grand daughter and would hold out his toys to share. She looked at him with adoring eyes. Other children were there as well and the sounds of their play emphasized to us all how full of wonder and joy this life really is.

The family sits and talks -- like an Irish wake without the drinking. We all shared stories of Marty, things we had done, jokes we had played, vacations we had taken, and on and on. We re-united with people Carol and I had taught with in the 70's, Carol's and Marty's brothers, sister, and sisters-in-law, and connected with many, many, many of Carol's colleagues from school and the school system. While it may be trite to say so, we laughed, we hugged, we cried. Sitting shiva is so healthy and while it confronts grief head on, it re-asserts life. How honored I am to have been a part of this.

10 comments:

Purple Flowers said...

I sat shiva once, with not as much activity as yours, but similiar. I agree with you, wakes are abit depressing, where with shiva, one gets a chance to talk about the person, laugh, cry and get alot of emotions out. It felt right.
Different traditons related to different religions are interesting to observe and/or be a part of.

Jay said...

One of the blogs I read is written by someone who is Jewish. He blogged about sitting Shiva a couple of weeks ago when a neighbor died. I find it fascinating.

I've been to a wake. And a rather impromptu wake of sorts that I guess wasn't really a wake cause it was kind of wild. I actually rather enjoyed that one because it was more a celebration of the deceased's life. With alcohol. Lots of alcohol. ;-)

But I've never done the sitting Shiva thing.

CRUSTYBEEF said...

you have explained shiva perfectly!!
You're a good friend to be so open and loving..

My thoughts to your friend!

G-d's love to them!!

E~

Brad said...

It sounds like a wonderful tradition allowing people to feel, think, remember and grieve. I hope Marty got a kick out of watching it all.

Cheryl said...

What a wonderful informational post. It's been so long since I've sat shiva that I really didn't know what it was about. You did good.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I've always thought it sounded like a very healthy and helpful custom.

Gilly said...

I've heard of sitting Shiva before, and thought it was a good idea, but your post was so good, I was almost there! It does seem such a brilliant idea. I am sure my sister, who lost her son (aged 40, with a family) last September, would have benefitted from such a ritual. She is finding it so hard either to be open about her grief, or accept (practical) help.

Unfortunately she is not a Jew.

But I am pleased that it was both a sad and happy occasion for you.

cri said...

Dear Kathy, thank you very much for the love you give to me. Now I feel better and my father feels very good, and I'm so happy!!!!
Claudio is here, and I want to be relaxed... I need it so much!!!!
Have a great sunday!!!
Cristina

beachgirl said...

I live in a very Jewish neighborhood. So I have seen shiva sat before. I have never participated. But I knew what it was.
Friends like you are hard to find.

Ariadone said...

Hallo Kathy,
I saw you at Purple flowers and I took a peak at your blog. I just red your story and on my blog yoy will find an beautiful picture of a mourning angel ( or does she give us confort in the way of telling us that it's ok for us to weep, it's ok for Jezus and our friends in pain. She is beautiful and if you like, visit my blog and copy her. We needed confort for our pain last thursday, as a speedcar drove into the audience on Queensday, in Apeldoorn, just as the whole royal familie in an open bus was waving happy at them.
I will visit your blog again.
Thank you
Ariadone
Godeliva ( = my real name )