I’ve been hearing a lot about Shiva lately, the Jewish tradition of sitting with the aggrieved for seven days following a loss. It’s a sacred time where friends and family bring food and love to the griever’s home just after the burial. They don’t work or bathe, cut their hair, wear leather shoes (they’re considered too fancy) or engage in intercourse. Instead they sit, tell stories of the deceased person’s life, and receive space to cry. What a wonderful time it must be! Friends and family, rest and openly acknowledging the pain and finality of death.
Following this exquisite week begins thirty days, Sheloshim, of moderate mourning. There’s praying of the Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) then, one full year to the day after the death, there’s a visit to the gravesite. In other words, Jews don’t rush the drive down life’s most painful highway; they take their time, travel the slow lane, accelerate and allow lane changes. Wow, right? Just wow.
As far as I know, Black people, Black Christians, my beautiful, imperfect people, have no such ritual. Yes, there is a Homegoing Service, then a 40-cars-long caravan to the gravesite and maybe even an eloquent release of white doves; then a repast with gobs of oily, succulent food then………………………………..(crickets)
Followed by……………………………………………………………..(more crickets)
Then after that…………………………………………………………(a cricket reunion)
See those blanks? I wish I could fill them in with more than crickets. I wish to God I could write: then the food is put away and mourners gather for one month, each Tuesday, to cry and talk, eat ice cream sandwiches and mourn Aunt Betty, together.
I’d be happy to even write: ….then there is much hand holding and hugs and teeth gnashing as each day for two weeks, following the funeral, guests stop by the house to sit in silence, watch Jeopardy, and share physical expressions of care and support.
What’s up my people? Why the cold air after we lose those we love? Sure, your family has a follow up pizza night after the repast and no doubt many folks probably have some after-death ritual unique to their clan, but what I’m saying is, why is there not a formal grief ritual observed by African Americans across the board, no matter where and how they live? Or maybe the question is, why is there no standard Christian ritual for mourners? Where is our Shiva? Our break from the world, a sort of timeout, so true healing can take place?
Yes, I know, we have jobs and work in the world. We don’t get breaks. Truth is, most of us are back to work before the body cools. Secretly, many of us believe we don’t have a right to grieve. Grieving is for the rich. Grieving is for our neighbor’s neighbor with the 401K and the husband who’s a dentist.
Let’s keep it really real: grieving is a luxury most of us cannot afford. And this costs us. I’ll bet there’s a survey somewhere (and if there isn’t, there ought to be) that shows employee performance and general health decline after the loss of someone we held in our hearts. Right now, as I type this, I notice that my hair has been shedding. Big time. I am certain this has something to do with my Mama-grief and yet I can’t take a week to sit on the veranda and massage my scalp or go the spa each day for a month or lie in bed resting and recuperating.
I have to carry on and so do you.
The seven days after Mother died I didn’t sit Shiva; I sat at my IKEA dining room table and wrote thank you notes; I called Grady Hospital to make sure they had sent all Mama’s bills; I sat in traffic taking my sons to school; I shopped for groceries and cooked each night; I went to work. I got back in the swing of things. That was all the sitting I did. I’ll do.
There’s a Jewish saying, Zichronam Livracha,which means “may their memory be for a blessing.”
To sit would be a blessing to those of us who must live on beyond the church service. We, ALL of us, deserve and need to receive the gifts of time, companionship and healing.
No matter which race we run.