Charles Cowling


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 rxmeds hub order cialis super active online 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

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Jenny Uzzell
10 years ago

Yes, I can see the value of that, but I still think it might lessen the impact in that the visitors take on the ‘running of the house’ for a while…they shoulder the practical burdens.
Still those who participated in this project obviously derived comfort from it and certainly doing it in a retreat is better than not doing it at all!

Jenny Uzzell
10 years ago

I have always thought that the Jewish custom of sitting Shiva was brilliant. Another example of the many ways in which Judaism seems to be able to seemlessly introduce religion and ritual into everday day life and cater for the psychological requirements of actual human beings. While I am sure that ‘sitting Shiva’ would be hugely benefical for many in a secualar context (there is of course, no one size fits all) I am a little puzzled about the idea of holding it away from the home of the bereaved as though it were a service such as might be… Read more »

gloria mundi
10 years ago

Well, nice try….maybe just ‘ritual’ will do. I appreciate that ritual and custom is prescriptive by cultural evolution (or divine instruction, as you please)but in this case, the family and the celebrant working together will prescribe the ritual – until such time that so many people say ‘hey, that’s a lovely way of doing it’ that it becomes widely adopted? And if we work to freshen and develop existing ritual elements (processesion, candles, pictures, group singing, group speaking in response to celebrant) rather than sitting down round a table to create “designer ritual” from scratch (eg “if I stand on… Read more »

gloria mundi
10 years ago

What a valuable final paragraph. Efforts to “freshen” established rituals could indeed be the way forward. And I guess that’s what many of us are trying to do with the classic British 25 minute crematorium funeral. (Step 1 – book a double slot, if funds allow. Step 2 – fill the time with a variety of good ideas, as did the family I visited today.)

Surely what many of us want is “a nondenominational, one-size-doesn’t-fit-all tradition that can be tinkered to fit countless situations.”