I went to the grave-side memorial for my friends father today. Her father was buried according to Jewish law.
Below are some of the rituals in Jewish tradition concerning the dead and grieving that I find moving.
(*) from the moment of death, the body is not left alone until after burial. This practice, called guarding/watching (shemira), is based on the simple principal of honoring the dead. During this time the shemira recite prayers.
What touches me, is that just as we come into this world with someone watching over us, we leave it the same way.
(*)The family of the deceased tear (keriyah) their clothing. (this has been replaced with a small black ribbon which is cut). The bereaved will wear the ribbon through the first seven days of mourning.
It’s as if the bereaved are being told, it’s alright to be filled with emotions, to hurt and to feel torn.
(*) After the burial, a relative or friend prepares the “meal of condolence,” which traditionally consists of eggs (symbolizing life) and bread. This meal is for family only, but visitors may come to offer condolences afterwards
Well, Jews just like to eat. I think this serves a more symbolic meaning of again caring for the living. And suggesting in the the act of feeding, that the family deserves the space and time to grieve. That others will help take care of you so all you need to do is to be with your feelings.
(*)The family then enters a seven-day period of intense mourning (shiva, “seven”). Mourners sit on low stools or the floor instead of chairs, do not shave or cut their hair, wear cosmetics, work, bathe, have sex, put on fresh clothing, or study Torah (except Torah related to mourning and grief). They wear the clothes they tore when they learned of the death or at the funeral. Mirrors in the house are covered. Prayer services are held where the shiva is held, with friends, neighbors and relatives making up the minyan (required group of 10 for prayer times).
Depending on the sect of Judaism, the methods for ‘sitting shiva’ varies. The primary principal that I think is important here is, it is not often a comfortable time when someone you love has died. Life is different without them here. I also think that part of the shiva ritual is that it’s okay to look and feel crummy.
(*) Shiva is followed by schloshim (“thirty”), which lasts until the 30th day after burial.
Again what happens durring schloshim varie from one sect of Judaism to the next, but I see the primary principal as a lay low time. You heart still feels the sharpness of your loss and it’s a time to be easy with yourself.