A Jewish woman friend of mine lost her father this week and as is the Jewish tradition, is sitting Shiva. I admit to knowing very little about the Jewish faith, so I did some quick reading on sitting Shiva before friends and I visited the woman at her home.
Essentially, shiva is the 7-day mourning period that begins following the funeral of the loved one who died. As is tradition, my friend had all the mirrors in her home covered. I read this used to be done to prevent the spirit of the departed from becoming trapped in the mirror, but now is done more to encourage inner reflection.
From what little I know about sitting shiva, I really like it as a tradition. People coming to visit are encouraged to bring food, as the person sitting shiva doesn't leave the house for the 7-day period. The focus is entirely on the person in mourning. You walk into the house instead of ringing the doorbell, and you encourage the person to talk about their memories of the deceased. The person sitting shiva is not to "play host/hostess" or worry about assuring visitors that they'll be fine, etc. Again, all the attention is on allowing the person to just sit and be with their mourning and honor their sense of loss for the week.
My friend told us that after the 7-day period is complete, there is a 30-day period where she'll reenter normal life, but she wouldn't go to, say, a party or wedding or anything like that. Then--and this is the part I really like--a community prayer is recited daily for the deceased for the next year. A minyon of at least 10 people is required to recite the prayer.
I find all of this to be very healthy and healing and so very different from what seems to be the standard response to death in our country which is "take 3 days off work for the funeral and paperwork, then come back, hide your emotions and suck it up and do what needs to be done to move through your job and life." And God help you if you're still mourning after 6 months because then you're probably "in denial" and "unable to let go of the past." I think there's something to be gained from honoring an extended time of mourning.
It's been an educational and thought-provoking experience this week.