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For many people, visiting someone or trying to support someone who is in mourning the loss of a loved one can be a difficult proposition.  We are plagued with trying to figure out what to say, how to act and perhaps we ourselves are in pain and don’t have the emotional strength to be present with someone else who is living in sadness.  The following story and description is an interesting perspective on what visiting someone sitting shiva, or for that matter anyone mourning a loved one, as it emphasizes the impact of just showing up.  Showing up can sometimes in itself be the truest of expressions of empathy with a mourner.

Drive-by shiva

At first the words ‘drive by shiva’ seemed offbeat even a touch offensive.

A friend told me he was paying a shiva call, and the person sitting shiva excused himself and walked onto his terrace for a brief moment.

Another friend of his had called him from his car to explain that he had rounded the block several times and could not find any parking spot. No surprise to anyone familiar to the neighborhood. He said he didn’t want to leave without at least talking to him to pay his respects even over the phone.

The person sitting shiva immediately asked him to drive back to the front of the house.

He said he’ll walk out on the terrace so his friend could at least step out of the car, ‘see him’ and say the sentence ascribed to mourners that G-D should comfort the mourners amongst Zion and Jerusalem which is an important part of the visit.

And so he did. He paid his respects in person however brief seeing and talking to him from his terrace. The mourner was properly consoled and a parking spot was spared.

This may all sound amusing of course, yet it may be a proper alternative to some of the inappropriateness that too often takes place in a shiva house.

People asking wholly inappropriate questions of the mourner(s), laughter and gaiety as if it’s a sorority, staying endlessy long thus preventing others from entering a congested room to pay their respects.

When Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Rav of the Agudah of Madison was sitting shiva for his father A’H he went to great lengths to teach those who came to pay their respects the proper way to do so. Recalling what he had learned from his Rebbe Rav Pam, A’H he explained the purpose is to talk about the niftar, the deceased. A visitor should always wait for the mourner to speak first or acknowledge you in some way. If the visitor knows the deceased you should repeat a good story about him or her. Talking about that person in a good way is a comfort to family members who are mourning.

If you didn’t know the deceased say to the mourner, I didn’t know your _____ well please tell me a good story about him.

Listen to the story, the mourners talking is meant to be cathartic and comforting and after a few additional minutes leave.

Sitting shiva is an emotionally and physically  difficult time. As it should be.

It is a time to cry, to remember, for introspection, and to feel a sense of loss. Some mourners may sit alone and only have few visitors. In those situations your remaining awhile may be the best gift you can give them especially if they ask you to stay. In a mourners home that has a large uninterrupted number of visitors, paying your respects properly and briefly is also a gift you bestow. It enables more people to come through, to talk or listen about the deceased and to repeat the important phrase May G-D comfort you…

There are many situations where a telephone call is the only way to pay a shiva call. No doubt most if not all of us have done this when we live a great distance away.

A drive-by shiva sounded funny and even inappropriate when I first heard the term.

Once I understood the circumstances that the mourner considered it more meaningful to ‘see’ his friend albeit momentarily from his terrace than a phone call it seemed perfectly reasonable.

The total time one spends in a mourner’s house to pay his respects should in many cases be less than finding a parking spot in some neighborhoods. It may be a good frame of reference to keep in mind.