Cooking and Sitting Shiva

The words “Sitting Shiva” have been in my head so much of today.  The family who is grieving the loss of their son is not Jewish and nor am I, but the words are the ones I know best for explaining the process of going to one’s home and just being there to support.

A few years ago there was a death in an Inupiaq village while I was there.  I went to the home of the family even though I did not know them well because that is the custom of the village.  I sat on the sofa between two elders and received very gentle subtle guidance on what to do and how to just be there to support.  It was a very powerful and beautiful experience and I was very thankful to have those elders there to teach me.

I grew up as an only child.  I’m shy and my extended family lives around the country.  We’ve been very blessed that there have not been major tragedies in our lives and I have managed to grow up unpracticed in the way of mourning with others.

Frankly, I think it sounds exhausting and I’d far rather go off by myself and cry than go to the home and struggle to hold back tears and feel stiff and exhausted .

We baked a couple casseroles this morning to take to the family.  There was a part of me that wanted to run to them as soon as I heard the news a couple days ago and another larger part of me that wanted to just stay home in the quiet easiness of my home.  My kids were sick so that trumped everything, but even if they weren’t, it didn’t feel right.

I selfishly didn’t want to get caught up in my own emotions.

It acutally feels really good to go and just see people and visit and cry and watch kids play.  It feels good and it feels right.  It’s exhausting, but not in the way repressing those feelings is exhausting.  And so that’s what we did.  And tomorrow we will bake cakes and go up again.  And hopefully folks will come to our house to visit and we will have food and drink to offer (and a clean bathroom and a relatively picked up living room) and just plain old friendship and shared memories and compassion and time.

As for my kids – they loved visiting and my little girl lit up and smiled each time one of the elders spoke to her.

4 Comments

Filed under Life in Alaska

4 responses to “Cooking and Sitting Shiva

  1. When I was a teenager, my favorite cousin who was exactly my age died in an accident. My extended family gathered in Miami for his funeral, and there are two things I never forgot about the mourning experience. First was that the younger kids laughed a lot, even at the funeral. The innocent giggling was a lovely song for all of us to hear. The other memory was that we went snorkeling as a family afterward, and I have always appreciated that the elders understood the value in gathering in a positive manner as a way to show us that life marches on.

    • Oof – what a very poignant and profound experience. I think we are blessed when we are able to learn from others the rituals or beliefs that have been so meaningful and beneficial.

  2. It’s hard knowing there’s just no way you can replace whatever/whoever a person is grieving for. I think that’s the hardest part for me.

    But I like what you say in the last paragraph…time and friendship and talking…these things are similar in that they can’t be replaced.

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