Granted the role of visitors at a shiva is to keep the mourners company and raise their spirits. But after I heard myself respond "fun" I had this creepy feeling that that was a completely inappropriate answer.
Shiva, which means seven in Hebrew, is the week of mourning that follows the death of a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister or spouse. During the shiva, the remaining family members usually congregate in one place to receive guests. It is a positive commandment to visit a shiva house.
So far so good. I visited the shiva house.
Here's where it got a little shaky: traditionally, one does not speak until spoken to by one of the mourners. (I think I walked in talking.) However, once the mourners engage you in conversation it is APPROPRIATE to talk about the deceased. Oops.
It wasn't that I didn't want to be respectful to the deceased. I did. But a few other factors came into play:
- One of the daughters of the deceased is my grocery store friend. Although I don't see her there so often anymore, when I do see her we always have a short conversation about life that turns into a 30 minute blab-fest. Never fails.
- She is Canadian and I instinctive feel comfortable with my Canadian friends and acquaintances. No, it isn't logical so don't ask me why that is. It's not like we start talking about the prime minster or what's happening at Yonge and Bloor. It just is and it's nice.
- The two people who accompanied with me to the shiva didn't know the mourners so well, so I felt, going in, that I was going to have to carry whatever conversation went on. It's not that either of them is conversation-incompetent, but rather, there was part of my brain that shifted into: I-am-on-a-mission-to-save-the-day-with-words mode.
- The deceased, my friend's father, died at 92. I am not suggesting that death isn't sad, but frankly at 92 I think that a shiva should be more of a celebration of one's life. Death is sad -- agreed. Living until 92, having four wonderful children who love you and gave you grandchildren and great grandchildren, is a damn successful life. And, as far as I know, no one in the extended family is in jail for murder -- so it's a double blessing.
- Mourners do not bathe or shower for a week -- I think keeping someone's mind off how grungy they must feel is also a positive commandment.
- Mourners traditionally do not leave the shiva house for the week (except some go home to sleep) and no matter how sad you are, trust me, you get a little antsy and claustrophobic. I was happy to see total strangers when it was me sitting shiva and I was thrilled for all the people who did the talking and kept me entertained. I was just paying it forward today.
So yes, the shiva was fun. We talked about all sorts of things that people here normally talk about -- where we came from, our children, Israel, Jewish geography -- and I think everyone felt good when all was said and done. I am sure that my approach would be appalling to some of the people I know (you know who you are), but frankly they think that almost everything I do is appalling. Why should today be any different?
To my friends O and M, I am sorry I talked so much -- I doubt that either of you was really surprised. And when I get your daughters husbands as a result of all the information exchanged today, then I am confident you will consider forgiving me.
And to the family of the deceased. The shiva was fun. I think your father would have enjoyed it.