Practical Aspects of Death and Mourning
- In most cases, you should not expect to greet the family before or after the funeral, or at the burial. Offer your comfort by visiting the shiva home.
- Pay attention for announcements of shiva location and times, and for organizations to which you might make a contribution in honor of the deceased.
- There will be a processional to the gravesite if the funeral was not a graveside ceremony. Go to the cemetery if possible. Stand around the site with other mourners while the family sits or stands at the front.
- Participate in the burial itself; shovel dirt into the grave with your hands or with a shovel. Place the shovel back into the pile of dirt.
- As the mourners leave the grave site between two rows of those attending the burial, say as they pass "Ha-Makom yenahem etkhem b'tokh sha'ar aveilei Tzion vYerushalayim--may the Omnipresent comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
It is customary to wash hands when leaving a cemetery, before you enter the shiva home, or in your own home if you are not going directly to the shiva home.
Tzedakah--righteous giving--to organizations and causes is an appropriate way to honor someone's memory. In one interpretation, the Talmud portrays tzedakah as stronger than death itself. Mourners can also keep the deceased's values alive by contributing time and effort to relevant causes. Visiting the sick, comforting mourners, and involvement in a burial society can be especially appropriate.
For those who wish to consider starting or getting involved in a hevra kaddisha or burial society, some thoughts:
- Most people get over their squeamishness about death relatively quickly. There are also valuable roles that can be played by those who do not wish to have direct contact with corpses.
- The work of preparing the dead for burial can easily be learned by non-professionals, and the training is not difficult.
- The rabbi or rabbis in your community can be helpful in publicizing and organizing a hevra kaddisha. Individuals from existing burial societies can help with your training.
- Each hevra develops relationships with local funeral homes to make cooperation smooth.
- Participation in a hevra kaddisha is by most accounts extremely rewarding.
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