Since my “shloshim” period of mourning ends this week, 30 days since my dad left this world, I have resolved for this to be my last column where I can grieve openly. I apologize if my last few columns were not your cup of tea but, honestly, they have been really helpful for me, and I am sure that my dad has enjoyed them. He always told me that I should write a book and I always replied with “Dad, you know that I am not so great on the follow-through.” But we will see if that ever happens. In any event, the topic of this last grief-based column is about the shiva visit. For those of you who do not know what shiva is, it is the seven days of mourning where the mourners sit on low chairs and spend the week talking to visitors about the person they lost. Husband #1 was amazing at his shiva for his dad, which was about four months ago. He told incredible stories about his father and many people commented on what a wonderful shiva experience they had. I was very proud of him, and I am sure that his father was too. Everyone left having learned something about my father-in-law that they didn’t know before, which, I think, is supposed to be the point of shiva.
The shiva for my father was totally different than for my father-in-law. This is only interesting because my father-in-law and my father were also totally different. My siblings and I didn’t sit together the whole time, my mother was (as previously mentioned) quarantined in her room with covid, and a lot of the shiva responsibility fell on me. People who had sat shiva before had told me about the “loop.” That’s when you start talking about your loved one, people come at the beginning, the middle, or the end of your loop, and they feel more comfortable leaving when they have heard all of it. Someone compared it to old-time movies, when you could walk in anytime and leave when you realized that you have finally seen the whole thing. For example, I began the loop talking about the first three things that went wrong immediately following my dad’s death (I guess that would be four things that went wrong). There was an issue with where the funeral was going to be, the issue of accidentally leaving my mother in the ladies room when all of the cars left to the gravesite, and then my mother being diagnosed with covid. Some shiva visitors were greeted with a funnier loop and some a more tearful one. But most visitors were able to see me hydrate with either cherry coke or cherry coke zero, and I apologized to any health conscious attendees.
I learned many lessons since my dad died and during my week of shiva and I wanted to share some of them with you. First and most important. You can never do the wrong thing by paying a shiva call. As gabbai, Husband #1 went to hundreds of shiva calls and several of them required traveling through bridges and tunnels. Never once did he come home after sitting in traffic and say, “Wow, that was a waste of time.” And when he would see that person in shul, it only made for a more comfortable interaction. As opposed to the person who was running into the bathroom and yelled to me, Husband #1’s wife, “So sorry about your father-in-law …” and then closed the door to the ladies room behind her. And then didn’t pay a shiva call to me either!
You sit for seven days and talk constantly for seven days. Any time someone asked me if I was tired, I said, “I get one week to talk about my dad where people actually seem to care. That is it-one week to talk about how wonderful he was to me and my family and everyone who knew him. I can handle one week.”
And as I write this now, with my original intention to “call out” all of those people who did not pay shiva calls to either me or Husband #1, I realize that it is their loss. I was honored and lucky to have had my dad as a father. I was truly blessed to have been brought up by a man who was so funny and kind and smart. And the people who were kind and thoughtful were able to learn a little bit about this wonderful human.
When I walked into the supermarket the day I got up from shiva and a woman who didn’t pay a shiva call saw me and then started looking at her phone pretending I wasn’t there, that was ok. It might not be nice, but it is her problem, not mine. Because like everything else in life, we are responsible only for our actions, for what we do. It might hurt and when someone who didn’t pay a shiva call says, “How ya hanging in?” I might want to say, “Do you really care?” I will not, because my father would not be happy with me if I did that. Sending a card is a wonderful and thoughtful gesture. Even a text or a private Facebook message is nice, but if you list more than three excuses about why you cannot pay a shiva call — don’t. Just say, “We are sorry for your loss.” That is perfect. My father just died, I don’t really care about your upcoming vacation. No offense. Just acknowledge the loss.
Well, I hope this column, although longer than usual, was helpful. I know people are busy and yada yada yada, but I felt I needed to say what I said. Of course, there was so much more to be said, but out of respect to my dad and Husband #1, I will stop. And as one shiva visitor said, may your simchas outweigh your sorrows.
Banji Ganchrow of Teaneck will just never understand people. Ever. But she will always enjoy making them laugh. Even the not nice ones.