May 22, 2014
How To: Sensitive Nichum Aveilim

Yael Hanover, who sat shiva for a child, advises the proper conduct when comforting a family who has lost a child.

By Yael Hanover


If you are going to be Menachem Avel a family who has lost a child, please consider the following, and trust me because I speak from experience having sat Shiva for my own child:

If you are overcome by emotion and cannot stop crying, do not go. The family is dealing with their own emotions, they do not need to deal with yours as well.

There is a reason there are posters printed with what to say on them. Say little or nothing else. If you are wondering if you ought to say anything in particular, do not. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT begin a statement with, "At least," "You need," "You should," or "Don't."

Do not compare losses. If you have mourned a parent, spouse, sibling or friend, it is not the same. If you have lost a pregnancy, it is not the same. Your loss is valid and deserves respect, too. If you need to talk about it, someone else's Shiva is not the place.

Do not bring your children. They can be a distraction or say things that while appropriate to their age, are not appropriate for the situation and could cause the family greater discomfort.

Do respect the family's wishes and feelings. If they want privacy or to eat nothing but milkshakes or eat nothing at all, do not try to change their minds. Try asking what you can do to facilitate their requests.

Do not question the circumstances of the child's death. Do not bring up preventability. The cause of death is absolutely irrelevant in light of the simple fact - He is gone, help them survive that by being sensitive.

We should know only simchas and good news between now and Geula, it should be immediately.

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Opinions and Comments
1
very Smart!!!
Agree with every word
(5/22/2014 1:12:46 PM)
2
Thank you for posting this
You should give this to Misaskim or other organizations that help with Nichim Aveilim.
(5/22/2014 1:14:07 PM)
3
Sorry for your loss
And thank you for such a practical and useful article.
(5/22/2014 1:18:52 PM)
4
G-d bless you
beautiful and sensitive. Sorry about your loss.
(5/22/2014 2:05:25 PM)
5
CHT
That's why I would never come.
(5/22/2014 2:05:26 PM)
6
Thank you!
We should know only simchas and good news between now and Geula, it should be immediately
(5/22/2014 2:07:48 PM)
7
that's a whole bunch of what not to do's
now let's hear what we should do there
(5/22/2014 2:18:47 PM)
8
Yaakov
Lets pray that from now on we should ALL know only SIMCHAS!
(5/22/2014 2:20:19 PM)
9
Well Stated
It is so very unfortunate that the author has write these common-sense guidelines because of personal catastrophic experiences but kudos to her for putting pen to paper and sharing. A must read to everyone planning a Shiva call. I would like to however add one more point, never say I know what you are going through or I know how you feel because unless you are G-d forbid in their shoes there is no way you will ever know or comprehend how they feel.
May Hashem bless you, your family and all those who have suffered through these unthinkable tragedies to have the strength to endure all the associated demanding challenges.
(5/22/2014 2:20:27 PM)
10
Thank you for your enlightening article
I would like to add that if you are not friends with the family, do not go! This is not a time to meet the mourners for the first time! Lots of people think by going to strangers during Shiva is a very supportive action, but it is unfortunately exploiting the privacy of the family. People feel they have an excuse to enter their home, as no one screens the visitors at the door. Many people go for their own curiosity, and that is not appropriate. Ask yourself before going, "am I going as a supportive friend, or as a stranger who is only going inorder to check out the atmosphere of the home and inform everyone about it ! In liu of
visiting send a donation to the Mosad of the families choice
in honoring the special Neshama.
(5/22/2014 2:26:26 PM)
11
to #5
there are better options then just not turn up. if every one thinks that then they wont have any comforters
(5/22/2014 2:44:42 PM)
12
Similar question regarding sensitivity
Can someone (preferably someone who has unfortunately experienced it) please write an article regarding what should be said to someone who has had a broken engagement?
(5/22/2014 2:53:01 PM)
13
hmm
Being menachem avel is so difficult for me for all the wrong reasons. I am absolutely petrified of doing or saying something wrong. In the end, I always get over myself and try to not really say anything. This is enlightening, definitely for people who do feel the need to say things and maybe don't weigh what they wish to say, but language like "ABSOLUTELY DO NOT" just makes me feel more and more self conscious of anything I've ever said in such a situation and more and more hesitant of putting myself out of my comfort zone in the future. Visiting a shiva house is about them, the mourners, and feeling horrified of breaking the rules makes me fall way too deep into my own insecurities. While I think the points mentioned in this piece are all absolutely relevant, especially coming from somebody with experience, I think the language included is far to strong and intimidating. These situations are delicate for the mourners and for the visitors. We should all be comforted and see only simchas from here on out.
(5/22/2014 2:55:31 PM)
14
WOW
Quite sensible and clearly written. Thank you.
(5/22/2014 3:06:53 PM)
15
KOP DR.
TO ALL U BRAIN INTELLECTUALS THAT'S Y WE SAY THE POSUK. BECAUSE ONLY G-D CAN COMFORT YOU AT A TIME LIKE SHIVA
" HAMOKOM YENACHEM ESCHAM
(5/22/2014 3:25:19 PM)
16
to #7
Say. NOTHING AT ALL. Go sit a few minutes but say NOTHING. Moshe Rabainu said NOTHING when his brother Aharon Hakohen lost 2 sons.
(5/22/2014 3:33:31 PM)
17
to #7
use common sense! After reading this article, you should pretty much understand what is appropriate to say...
If you cant figure it out, you prob shouldn't be going...
(5/22/2014 3:42:22 PM)
18
thank you for this
unfortuantely, in my volunteer chevra kadisha work, i've heard the most horrendous things in shiva homes. it's either some people are just plain stupid or they think that by spouting off their opinion they will make the aveilim feel better

Here are some horrible ones we hear way too often

1.At least she lived a long life, many people die young
2.He is in a better place
3.There is a reason for everything
4.You can have another child still
5.She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him
6.I know how you feel
7.She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go
8.Be strong
(5/22/2014 3:45:02 PM)
19
excellent article
Excellent article.

To all who are now asking, so what should I say: You don't have to say anything. I vaguely remember there is even a halacha that you are supposed to let the mourner(s) open the conversation. Just let them talk, and when you get up to go say the possuk and something like may we only know from simchas from now on.
(5/22/2014 4:35:39 PM)
20
Only simchos
Remember, when being menachem avel, it is not about you, but about the person sitting shiva. The mitzvah is not greater if you stay longer.
(5/22/2014 4:37:13 PM)
21
to #18
I heard someone said "Be strong for her sake because this is what she would want from you". It helped. I don't get it, what is wrong with this phrase.
(5/22/2014 4:49:49 PM)
22
Great advice under the circumstances
For close friends and family of the deceased, i would say, if you are close enough you would know what to say and what to do. For friends and others who feel they should go menachem them i say, go! it is important and will show the community concern, it does help! just please if you need instruction on what TO DO, just dont do anything other then listen and say the posuk " " before you leave. and don't linger too long, it gives the wrong impression
lastly, we should all know and experience only good things
(5/22/2014 5:05:45 PM)
23
Thank you for writing
Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding this extremely sensitive topic. I hope people will apply this lesson to writing comments on collive since the family obviously reads them.
(5/22/2014 5:08:22 PM)
24
to #21 from #18
unless u know the intimate details of their relationship, you can't say it.
suppose they had a very difficult mother/daughter overbearing controlling situation.
"be strong for her sake..." when in her opinion her mother did everything in her opinion to treat her like a pansy?

my point is that giving advice and opinions are out of place totally in a shiva house.

#19 mentions the halacha that the avel has to talk first.
let them lead the conversation in their direction.
the most we should do is gently encourage them to expound on whatever they want to talk about.
(5/22/2014 5:13:31 PM)
25
Well said
Yael, I am so sorry for your loss, but thank you for sharing this with us. It needs to be said.

I was at a shiva several months ago where a woman kept questioning the avel "But what happened? But what HAPPENED?" Even when it was clear the avel didn't want to get into the details of the death, the idiot woman kept asking. It was ridiculous.
(5/22/2014 5:29:03 PM)
26
Thank you for your wisdom
May Hashem bentch everyone with long life and good years.
(5/22/2014 5:50:14 PM)
27
One more..
you are such a strong person, Hashem kmows who to choose...
(5/22/2014 5:50:59 PM)
28
Good post
People can be super dumb. There is nothing to say.
(5/22/2014 6:11:38 PM)
29
Thank you Yael
I understand #13 too and I've learnt to stay for 5 minutes max or less if there are many people and say the Posuk with as much feeling as possible to the Avel and add a heartfelt wish for the Geula and then leave. May we no longer have to do this mitzva very soon - Moshiach Now !
(5/22/2014 6:42:38 PM)
30
thank you # 18!
some of the things you wrote I would have never thought were no no's! thanks for sharing!
(5/22/2014 6:47:47 PM)
31
'Only Simchas'
A while ago I saw in a sefer that we should not say 'only oif simchas' by a Shiva house because 'simchas' is also used as a 'cover-up' word for mourning, like Hilchos Aveilus is also called Smochos or the like.
We should better say: From now on only happy occasions. or Freileche zachn.
We should not have to write about these things any more.
Moshiach Now!
(5/22/2014 6:58:04 PM)
32
Well said
And may you only be blessed from now on.
(5/22/2014 7:37:48 PM)
33
From a mother who has lost a child...
I don't believe there r any definite wrong or right things to say at a shiva(other than perhaps not forcing the parent to vividly rehash (and thus relive) the specific details surrounding the Incident...each person is so individual in how they w/choose to deal with this...I remember for myself , the 2 most painful aspects to deal with were not knowing where she was or if she was experiencing any pain, and feeling like I couldn't bare being away from her indefinitely and that my relationship w/her was severed ("), ... What helped me was the following... In an answer from the Rebbe, it is explAined that all children that r taken prior to bar or bas mitzvah age r basically here to "do time" in This world , they r all neshamas that have completed all the mitzvos(otherwise they w/have gone on past the age where they r responsible to do mitzvos...as such they go straight to gan Eden...as far as being away from her indefinitely I realized that the fact that I w/b w/her again w/ was a given so this state of separation was only temporary(sort of like knowing she was right behind a locked door ,meanwhile being "babysat by Hashem and enjoying the delights of gan Eden)...as far as my relationship as her mother being severed, I realized a mothers relationship w/a child can never b severed...it had only changed mediums(ie., I could no longer "take care" of her by wiping her nose , etc. but I could still shower her w/love by giving her mitzvos "...another imports t thing to remember is , the Shivaji is such a state of numbness that it is almost more importa t to show the support AFTER... And it's the little things out of the blue that can truly make a difference...I remember talking to a good friend forever on a daily basis(I actually don't remember her saying much...but she was just there to listen whenever I felt the need, I remember neighbors who were there to not only fulfill my every request , but gave of themselves before I even knew to ask, I remember someone sending me a platter of meat (who could not afford it) and thinking "if food c/bring then This persons accomplished it! I remember getting a letter from an acquaintance months later, that just "happened" to come on a particularly bad day I was having...I don't even remember what was written but it was just the thought that some random person was reaching out, that was literally my lifeline that day! At the end of the day, a parent w/have to reach very deep inside to a place they never k we even existed , to find their own sources of but we can all b there to help in even such small ways that can make such a difference! May Hashem give these parents the they will need to withstand the of being together with their child again, with the coming of immediately!!!!
(5/22/2014 7:37:48 PM)
34
To number 13 - its hard for everyone
But its really not about you. During shiva all we should be concerned about is the grieving family. Whenther or not you are insecure or uncomfortable is irrelevant. Sometimes I go in, sit silently and leave, if the person isn't talking. It doesn't matter at that point what you feel like, its about the person that is suffering with the loss of a loved one.
(5/22/2014 8:03:28 PM)
35
to number 12
To number 12 of what to say to an engagement that broke up.....
Depends on how close you are to the person. How bout say...I'm sure part of you feels embarrassed that since the word got out there saying your engaged and then it didn't work out - if I were in your shoes I would feel very uncomfortable - like others are judging me. Like there's something wrong with me. And additionally dismissed by those that say oh everything is for a good purpose -something better will come up. That would make me feel very dismissed and minimized. I'm sure there are those that are telling you that cuz that's the way people talk. I say I'm sure it's a painful time for you. I'm sure part of you misses him - yet know there's better in store. It's okay to feel both ways the sametime. That's normal. If there's any feelings you want to talk about - I'm happy to listen! I won't tell you what to do - I won't give you advice and I won't judge you...I'm happy to listen and be a shoulder to lean on if you feel you need that. There's nothing wrong with you - you're not crazy and it's normal to feel very sad and cry as if your loosing something important to you - eventhough the choice was made for good reasons. Its like a part of you is mourning for your loss. Just stay with your feelings - and if you feel comfortable talking about them I'm happy to listen. Good luck!
(5/22/2014 9:30:37 PM)
36
Just sharing also ...
First, to the author of the post, and to #33, thank you for sharing. You state some very important, sensitive points. Having just sat shiva myself recently, I have learned that it is not important to sit for long; do come -- as the show of love and support of the community is important, but there is no need to say anything. Come, show your support, say "hamakom" and go...And I do agree with #33, that it was the random acts of kindnesses of people after Shiva, that made me cry each time -- but in a healthy way. I was really awed, and still am, months later, by the love and support of some very special people. I am a private person, and I am not interested in pity , or in people prying, but if you send a card, a cake, a book, just cuz.you're thinking of me... I am very touched. And to #33, thank you for your very honest thought process -- I'm still going through mine... Maybe we should start a support group??
(5/22/2014 9:33:35 PM)
37
Actually ...
Very touching article. Comment 16 is actually wrong. Moshe Rabbeinu said quite a bit when his brother lost two sons, and it is recorded for us both in Shas and in Medrash. Furthermore, the Gemara records stories of what Tanaaim said when they visited a colleague who lost an infant. So let's lay off the revisionism please.
(5/22/2014 9:39:13 PM)
38
Talking with experience
Something said to one Ovel can have the opposite affect on another Ovel. Having said that, generally speaking,
- Don't talk about other things to 'distract' the Ovel
- Remember they are in shock, they may say things that will surprise you. Go with the flow.
- Some may want to talk about the niftar. Tread carefully.
- Tell the Ovel what you and others are doing for the Neshama
- if you know the Ovel, stay in touch after Shiva. Then it is even harder to manage
(5/22/2014 10:15:58 PM)
39
another one
dont say: Hashem only tests the strong people.
oh really? He sits and waits up there to see who is strong and then throws them a tragedy "because they can handle it"?!

saying such things makes a person feel like "i'd rather be weak and still have my child here!"

(5/22/2014 11:02:44 PM)
40
To number 16
The one that kept silence was Aaron not Moishe. Moishe did say that now he understood that nodov and avihu were greater than even him and Aaron and that's what Hashem meant "bikrobay ekodesh".
(5/22/2014 11:37:08 PM)
41
its ok to cry
I lost a brother, and when ppl cried, I felt very touched. I felt like tgey were sharing the pain. I do agree with everything els though
(5/23/2014 12:03:40 AM)
42
Another been there done that commenter...
To number 39:
How about the one, "Hashem only takes the good ones". My husband replied, I'd rather have a bad son and have him be here.
There is a support group for bereaved parents. Our Tapestry is put out by a Ch woman.
Another suggestion ... If you must fill the silence, please, please please tell us a story about our child! You truly have no idea how much that means to us. One friend sent me pictures she had when our kids were younger. The best people for me were the group of chai lifeline counselors. They drove down from ny, brought pictures, and shared tons of stories. My husbands best friend flew in from out of state for a few hours. My best friends also drove down for the levaya and for the first yartzeit.
Don't be afraid to use our childs name. Trust me, you won't be reminding us. Call us on or around yartzeit and cut us some slack for what ever way we choose to cope. Some years are harder than others.
Don't laugh in a shiva house. One family member sat in the dining room with everyone and I heard her laughing at something. I wanted her thrown out! We had just come back from burying our son and you're laughing???? Do it somewhere else. It's not time for you to socialize with other visitors, even if you haven't seen them in a long time.
Don't tell is we are do strong. What choice do we have? Laying in bed and begging Hashem not to wake up doesn't work.
My friends let me talk about him when I need to. One former friend used to change the subject when I brought him up. That's why she's a former friend. My husband had a friend who said he didn't come or call cuz it was too hard for him. Really?????
Btw, I've been through it, and I tell others that I have no idea what they are going through. It's not the same, every loss is different. The relationship could be different, the age, etc.
I hope that by the time this comment is approved it is no longer necessary.
Yael, thank you for having the courage to write this.
Leah in VA
(5/23/2014 3:02:47 AM)
43
To 33
Really beautiful points, thank you.
(5/23/2014 8:07:39 AM)
44
#33
Thank you! That made me cry
(5/23/2014 8:33:11 AM)
45
to # 42
I cannot agree more. When our son passed away, we were strengthened by the little acts of kindness, the beautiful recollections and the mitzvos that people pledged in his memory. If you don't know the child, say a simple, "I'm so sorry" and "hamakom". Or sit quietly and say some tehillim. So often, the mourner just wants to speak. Listen, but don't offer advice. If you have to offer something, offer to do a mitzvah in the child's memory. On behalf of all of us who have gone through the deepest pain of Golus, we beg for Moshiach now.
(5/23/2014 9:42:30 AM)
46
to #34 from #13
I wrote... EXACTLY WHAT YOU SAID. That its uncomfortable for everyone, but since its ABOUT THE OVEL it doesn't help to make me feel even more insecure thus placing more of an influence on how I feel in the situation. I should be able to focus all my energy on trying to comfort them. I'm not disagreeing with the sharing of suggestions of what to and what not to say, I'm opposing the strongly-worded and one dimensional (other people disagree?) ways of sharing them.

IE.
- Remember, some people may feel uncomfortable if...
- Try not to focus on...
- Avoid saying....

The way that this is written makes me feel uncomfortable and insecure, and as if I've ever deviated from "what's right" I'm hopeless, and there is nothing you can say about that.
(5/23/2014 10:05:33 AM)
47
Been there
I dont think people realize what a comfort it is to see and talk to friends and relatives during shiva... We were touched by the cards and letters that keep arriving after shiva as well.. but there are some points to remember in addition to the ones stated above:

1. Please respect times for visiting as stated on doors or collive. It its disconcerting for the family not to have time to eat, or rest.

2. Dont come late at night..it might be convenient for you, but not for the family!

3. DO NOT OVERSTAY! Other people want to speak to the aveilim as well..everyone is waiting for a chance to say a few words..be considerate. If youre a good friend, call after shiva as well.

(5/23/2014 10:25:10 AM)
48
Sad
I know losing a sibling isn't the same thing. But a friend of mine who lost a child once asked me for my perspective so she could understand what her other children might have gone through.

Sometimes I do go to be menachem avel to someone who I don't know. When someone loses a child, many times there are siblings dealing with the loss as well. When I sat shiva, I didn't get much support, since I was just a sibling not a parent.

To #42- You are an amazing person and I'm glad to call you my friend.
(5/23/2014 10:43:09 AM)
49
Great points
from both the article and the comments.
(5/23/2014 10:45:32 AM)
50
stay only 5 minutes
you are not supose to speak un less spoken by the avel
(5/23/2014 12:21:45 PM)
51
so sorry
so sorry for all the people who lost there loved ones myslf including lost my brother, and yes each one is different and difficult!may hashem comfort us alland send moshiac . now!!!
(5/23/2014 1:52:16 PM)
52
Spot on!
Brilliant. As full of head as it is of heart! Should b shared amongst ALL frum circles, and Misaskim may be a good start.
(5/25/2014 1:18:11 AM)
53
LOSS/PETIRAH (passing on)
Why is the term 'loss' used for a neshomoh that has left this world?
One knows where the niftar is. The neshomoh is with HKBH and the physical body has been laid to rest and IYH will be brought back with Moshiach at Techias Hameisim.
(5/27/2014 1:24:09 PM)
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