There’s an interesting article about grieving in the New York Times. The writer describes an accidental discovery of the value of secular shiva.
First, what’s shiva?
Named after the Hebrew word for “seven,” shiva is a weeklong mourning period, dating back to biblical times, in which immediate family members welcome visitors to their home to help fortify the soul of the deceased and comfort the survivors. Though many contemporary Jews shorten the prescribed length, the custom is still widely practiced.
The writer continues:
The “secular shivas” we organized had a number of notable differences that proved crucial to their success. First, we organized them for Jews and non-Jews alike. Second, no prayers or other religious rituals were offered. Third, we held them away from the home of the griever, to reduce the burden. And finally, we offered the grieving party the option of speaking about the deceased, something not customary under Jewish tradition.
The writer lists lessons learned:
* Don’t wait for the griever to plan.
* Invite only those people that the bereaved person will feel comfortable with.
* Ask the bereaved person to share a few stories.
* There is comfort to be taken from a gathering of people, but here’s a caveat: “Introverts need to grieve, too. For some, a gathering of this kind might be a particular kind of torture.”
The writer concludes:
What I’ve taken away from the experience is a reminder of what I’ve seen often in looking at contemporary religion. Rather than chuck aside time-tested customs in favor of whiz-bang digital solutions, a freshening of those rituals is often more effective. Our “secular shivas” took some advantages of the Internet (e-mail organizing, ordering food online); coupled them with some oft-forgotten benefits of slowing down and reuniting; and created a nondenominational, one-size-doesn’t-fit-all tradition that can be tinkered to fit countless situations.
Like all such traditions, they may not soften the blow of a loss, but they had the unmistakable boon of reaffirming the community itself.
Whole article here