Your visit to the mourner at home is more than a courtesy call. In Jewish tradition, the moment is too critical for mere courtesy. It calls for consolation. During this brief visit you could bring comfort to someone in need, or you could act as just another spectator to tragedy. The mandate of our humanity and of our religion is that we bring sensitivity and empathy to those who mourn. The following are suggestions for helping implement your natural healthy feelings during such visits.
WHEN VISITING THE MOURNER
In Judaism, we believe that your very presence in the mourner’s home marks the beginning of consolation. If you feel uncomfortable, know that it is understandable and perfectly natural.
- Let the mourner begin to talk and set the tone, especially in sensitive situations such as suicide or young deaths or guilt-ridden grief.
- Listen considerably – not as though you are taking a breather before beginning to talk again. It is better to be silent than overly talkative.
- Show concern for the mourner’s well-being. Your face should wear a mien of seriousness, not necessarily sadness.
- Ideally, your conversation should not be distracting, but therapeutic. The mourner’s “small talk” should trigger your interest as though it is of great import.
- Speak of the departed. It may appear to be hurtful, but in fact it helps the mourner to unburden himself. Recall the major events in his life, his opinions on important matters, the quality of his relationships.
- Levity may bring you relief – but it is inappropriate for the mourners. However, humorous anecdotes of the deceased spoken respectfully are quite in place.
- Do not dwell on your own mourning experiences as it may appear to belittle the grief of the newly-bereaved.
- Do not offer gratuitous psychological advice.
- Do not offer spiritual rationalize for their loss.
- Conclude your words of consolation with hope that the values of the departed will be incorporated by his relatives and friends; that the sunlight of health and happiness will shine once again on the family members; that this tragedy will turn into an experience of personal growth; and that the behavior of his survivors will reflect on the worth of the departed.
In order to obviate fumbling with cumbersome goodbyes, we conclude their visit with a traditional formula of consolation: “May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
In addition, one might say:
“Please accept my sincerest condolences. I wish that sharing your grief could remove it. I will call to see if I can be of help.”
“I know their memory will always be with you. I have many fond memories of…”
“I hope that this will be the last such sadness, and that we will share many happy occasions together.”