My condolences for your loss. I hope that your father’s memory will be a blessing for you and for your family – and I pray that is neshamah (soul) will have an aliyah (a rising up).
In most Jewish communities, daughters and sons are treated in an egalitarian way. Meaning that your obligations after sitting shiva (saying kaddish, establishing a monument, etc) are the same as men. In general, there are a few rituals that many people find helpful and that I encourage folks to explore and participate in:
Saying Kaddish: Kaddish, a prayer celebrating life, is recited daily by someone in mourning during the first year after a loss and then on the anniversary of the death. It does many things, but I like to think of it as a forced reminder for the value of carrying on with life. At times of loss, the pain is immense and can be crushing. Kaddish reminds us of the beauty of life and the goodness of living at a time when it is most difficult. And the rabbis instituted its recitation to force the issue, knowing that we are too often unable to see beyond our grief. Kaddish is also recited in a minyan (a prayer quorum, to encourage us to be in community during a difficult time. Although many people recite kaddish daily, others attend Shabbat services each week and recite it weekly.
Shloshim: The first thirty days after a loss is a middle ground between shiva and returning to the rest of the world. Although we are not in the immediate grief of shiva, we are also not who we were before the loss of our loved one. During this time, people often avoid celebratory events or places where live music will be played. Again, the whole ritual of mourning in Jewish tradition is meant to give you space to grieve and to properly remember your loved one.
Monument: A monument is often established sometime during the first year, or just near the end of the year of mourning. It is often a gravestone, although in a time when some Jews choose other paths than burial, different monuments are being established. If you belong to a synagogue or Jewish community, there is often a memorial board where you can purchase a monument.
Giving Tzedakah: During a first year of mourning, it is a common Jewish tradition to give tzedakah in memory of the deceased. This helps honor his/her memory and also gives you an opportunity to support organizations that s/he cared for.
Memory: The memories we leave behind is our true legacy in this world. Jewish tradition encourages those who have lost loved ones to take time and remember them. Remember positive memories and difficult ones, remember them for who they were – and as they remain in your heart. We are a people of memory – a people committed to memory of our own mythic history and of the history of our relatives. Share stories when the opportunity arises. Let other people get to know your father as you did – whoever that was.
There is no right or wrong way to mourn. In Jewish tradition, we are mindful of the needs of the mourner, and we developed rituals that worked in their time to support folks who were suffering with a loss. I believe these rituals still hold power and meaning for us today. I encourage you to explore them and see if they help you in memorializing your father, and in easing your own sense of loss. If you need, I also encourage you to seek the counsel of a rabbi or therapist. Having someone to share the journey of mourning with is an important thing.
I pray that you find comfort in the months and years ahead. May your father be remembered for good.
Our sympathies go out to you on the loss of your beloved father. May his memory be for a blessing.
Judaism is praised and receives broad recognition for its highly developed traditions relating to death and mourning. Perhaps we can say that Jews are very experienced in death, dying and honoring those who have passed before us.
You rightly have recognized that a major milestone in the mourning process is the shiva or so-called ‘week of mourning.’ In actuality, there is an earlier period prior to shiva, known as aninut—this is intense loss, where everything is set aside for the sake of the deceased—‘met.’ Following this is the kevura—‘burial’ and then the shiva.
There is a difference between the observances directed towards the deceased and for those directed towards the survivors. We learn what a person must do in giving proper ‘k’vod ha-met’—honor to the deceased and the community obligations to show compassion—‘rachamim’ for the survivors by doing acts of lovingkindness—‘hasadim’ called ‘nichumim’—sympathies, condolences and comfort.
There is no other death in Judaism comparable to the death of a parent, requiring not only ‘sheloshim’—thirty days of mourning from the point of burial, but also a full year of mourning known as ‘shanah.’
There are gradations of lessening intensity as one moves through these observances. Depending on one’s place in the lineup of offspring of the deceased, obligations differ somewhat, especially for the eldest male child. Daily prayers, the recitation of mourner’s ‘kaddish’, etc.
Community and family are vital in a time such as this. A synagogue is vital at a time such as this.
I favor a book that has held me in good stead throughout the periods of the mourning of my parents. This classic is, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Rabbi Maurice Lamm. To my way of thinking, this is an outstanding book that is highly readable and accessible.
The book is still widely available and should be of help in learning the Jewish traditions, the meaning of life and the Jewish concepts dealing with death and mourning. Make sure to get hold of it.
Let me conclude with the traditional words of comfort: ‘Ha-Makom yinachem etchem … May the Almighty comfort you among all of those who mourn in Zion and Jerusalem.’
Min HaShamayim tenachumu! – May God send you comfort.
The Jewish mourning periods falls in stages of varying intensity corresponding to the stages of grief a mourner goes through. Starting from the immediate time after receiving the notice of the death until burial – this period is called “aneynut” during which the immediate relatives of the deceased are overwhelmed and stunned by grief and often also overburdened by the requirements of having to function and to organize the burial etc, during that time one is exempt from time-bound mitzvot such as prayer, tefillin etc.
The next stage, following burial is called “shiva” that you mentioned in your question and is the customary mourning period of 7 days, starting from the day of burial during which the mourner is not leaving her home and the community will take care of all needs (food, cleaning, making sure there is a minyan in the home etc). During that time a mourner is allowed (and supposed) to neglect personal appearance and refrains from showering, shaving, changing clothes, working etc.
The death of a close relative is followed by a period, called “shloshim” (thirty) counting thirty days from the day of burial during which a mourner is slowly reintegrating into life, leaving the home, going to work but still has a number of restrictions, like shaving, cutting the hair, participating in joyous events. In the event of the death of a parent a child is in mourning for an entire year although of lesser intensity. After the above mentioned “shloshim” period a child would continue to mourn the death of a father or mother, reciting daily the kaddish prayer, refraining to listen to life musical performances etc.
I always believed that the stages in the Jewish mourning process are one of the most attuned and sensitive rituals that put the needs of a mourner at the center. Very often Christian clergy, once they have learned about the Jewish mourning process have expressed that they wished something comparable would exist in their own faith tradition.
These stages are meant to guide the mourner through the process of coming to terms with the loss and to gentle guide him or her back to a new kind of normality.
First, my condolences on losing your father. It is often extraordinarily difficult to lose a parent, no matter how prepared we think we are.
According to tradition, there are three stages of mourning (not counting the pre-shiva responsibilities which is not, technically, a stage of mourning.) The first is the difficult first 7 days - in Hebrew '7' is 'shiva' - hence the name for 'sitting shiva.' The guidelines are quite well-known but the sheloshim practices are often less well-known. Technically, an adult who lost a parent is still a mourner and there are some mourning practices, as well.
The mourners may resume normal social and professional duties but are still restricted in certain ways. According to tradition, one one is not supposed to cut hair but bathing is permitted. Probably the most well-known guideline is the prohibition against attending social events but Torah study is permitted after shiva. You can attend weddings and b'nai mitzvah, brit milah ceremonies, etc., are not permitted to join the celebrations afterwards. You are also not supposed to buy and wear new clothes or jewelry.
However, you are permitted and encouraged to go back to work, reintegrate with your community and attend services.
If you have questions, you can consult 'The Jewish Way of Death' by Maurice Lamm or, of course, a rabbi whom you trust.
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