Has American culture changed shiva for the worse? – The Front


When Rabbi Michael Goldman celebrated shiva for his mother last April, friends and relatives brought in bites like chickpea kale stew and Israeli sweets.

Goldman, who coordinates programs for seniors at Westchester Jewish Community Services, found himself crying and crying, he said, breaking down in front of guests – including some he didn’t know well before. . He feels closer to them today.

“Shiva was an amazing experience,” he said.

Goldman sat Shiva for seven days, as is tradition; the name of the formal period of mourning comes from the Hebrew word for “seven.” Yet in recent decades, many American Jews, especially secularists and religious liberals, have only sat shiva for three days or even one.

Shiva is sacred, but in the United States, is there ever “enough time to mourn?” »

As Goldman put it, a shorter shiva — which not only changes Jewish tradition, but, because of its brevity, may lack the deep supportive feeling that made his experience so meaningful — could be the “prize of entry into modern society.

On average, Americans receive between one and five days of mourning. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the most popular HR policy gives three days. An abbreviated shiva, Goldman said, “starts to look like something more like a birthday party than the whole village stopping.”

“I don’t think American culture gives people enough time to grieve,” said Rabbi Joseph Ozarowski, rabbinical counselor and chaplain at Jewish Child and Family Services Chicago. “That was certainly true before COVID – if anything, COVID exacerbated it.”

As the death toll from COVID-19 in the United States approaches one million, experts have predicted a lasting wave of severe bereavement. Prolonged grief disorder was recently added to the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the so-called bible of psychiatry. People with the newly recognized disease feel stuck in a bereavement that can last for years, severely impairing daily life, relationships and job performance.

And experts fear that the prevalence of this disease could increase due to the fallout from the pandemic. “I think the pandemic has made losing someone especially worse,” said Dr. Vivian Pender, president of the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the DSM. The New York Times. “The usual process of loss and grieving has been disrupted.”

Yet as clinical perspectives on the duration of grief continue to broaden, few workplaces, Goldman says, assume that mourners need time to grieve even beyond a loved one’s funeral. .

Placing the burden of demonstrating the need for this time on the mourners goes against the spirit of shiva, he said. “There’s something very rewarding about spending an entire week in suspended animation,” he said, “where your job is to grieve and see that everything you would otherwise do is not so essential.”

During shiva, people asked questions and shared stories about Goldman’s mother, helping her and her family see her life in a new light. “You mean that annoying quality my mom had of looking at me and hugging me when I didn’t want to be hugged – people needed that?” he said.

“It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, my mom was heroically emotionally there for people in a way that so few people are.'”

“It is now very clear that this is what made her remarkable, if not extraordinary. If you had asked me in March, I would have said, ‘It’s just that lady. I love her, but she drives me crazy, nothing special.'”

We search for — and create — meaning after the death of a loved one, according to Robert Neimeyer, professor of psychology at the University of Memphis. “A central task of mourning”, he and his colleagues written in 2014“is the reconstruction of these narratives”.

Goldman linked this process to hakarat hatov, the Hebrew term for gratitude, which literally means “recognizing the good.” “A person starts saying, ‘You know, this thing that I thought was bad quality actually had good points,'” he said.

It can be difficult to begin this process, Goldman said, without time to “tell stories together” and with the looming pressure to get back to work.

Yes, this pressure is not the only reason why some mourners choose a shorter shiva. Some, for example, do not want to entertain or perform for guests. But having your home “invaded” for a long time has its perks, Goldman said. “In the end, you want space and solitude and welcoming some of the grief, hearing the sound of a clock for a while, and that’s part of the healing.”

Another reason some mourners choose a shorter shiva is that “no one in our culture really teaches how to deal with someone who is grieving,” said Carol King, who leads spouse/partner bereavement groups. at Rockland Jewish Family Services.

Shiva is sacred, but in the United States, is there ever “enough time to mourn?” »

She enjoyed how, when her father died when she was 21, neighbors took out the trash for her family, mowed the lawn and made repairs – for about a month. “There is no timetable for mourning,” she said. “There’s no getting over it – you have to learn to live with it.”

Seven days of formal mourning is a starting point, even for those who are not particularly observant. “Shiva is like an instruction manual when you really don’t know what else to do,” King said. “If you don’t have it, in some ways you’re just lost.”

Shiva is sacred, but in the United States, is there ever “enough time to mourn?” »

Shiva is sacred, but in the United States, is there ever “enough time to mourn?” »

Shiva is sacred, but in the United States, is there ever “enough time to mourn?” »

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