I understand that grief takes many forms for many different people. However, one commonality is the painful loneliness left in the wake of loss. A child, who loses a parent in the natural order, experiences the sudden disappearance of the loving parent who was once easily reachable at the other end of the phone. On the other hand, a spouse is suddenly bereft of the support system of marriage and all that that entails, and is now left living alone and rebuilding life as a newly single adult after many years as a couple. No matter how much time passes, and how many new relationships and routines are formed, our loved ones leave an indelible mark on our hearts.
In the months and years following shiva, mourners move into a different phase of mourning, lesser-known and little talked about. It's the period of rebuilding a life with gaping silences; a time of learning which friends can be counted upon and which friendships have run their course. I had to draw a line in the sand when planning my wedding, and that line fell very neatly between the friends that reached out to me during my year of mourning and those who seemed to disappear. At my wedding, without my father present, I wanted to feel only support and love and not the pang of fading friendships. The months after shiva are a time when the mourner is trying to forge a new place in the world and come to terms with who they are without their loved one by their side.
So I have a project for the community. We can call it "Bikkur non-Cholim," or a "Continuation of Nichum Aveilim," or just plain "Being Good Friends and Community Members." Whatever its name, there is a real, genuine need in the community for outreach to those who are suffering.
To be clear, no one wants to be pitied or coddled, especially not healthy, capable, independent adults. That being said, no one wants to be forgotten either, and it is easy to feel that way in the aftermath of a loss. Whether friends keep distance because they are unsure what to say or uncomfortable with this reminder of their own mortality, cutting ties with a healthy widow/er simply because their existence is a reminder of a lost friend is cruel and unusual punishment for the survivor. We all live busy lives, but little touches can go a very long way.
Here's how the community can help in the aftermath of the acute mourning period.
- Call to say "hello" and catch up - ask "what's going on?" or "what are you up to?"
- Extend an invitation to a movie, a show, dinner, coffee, a walk.
- Show the person you want to spend time with them because you like them and value their company, not as part of a couple but for themselves and the connection you can forge together.
- Shabbat invitations! (for a meal or a weekend)
- Shabbat can be a very lonely time for newly bereaved, as well as months and years after the event!
- Don't think that mourning ends after the year of aveilut. It often takes at least a year to make connections when one moves to a new city/town. Getting acclimated in your own city/town in a new phase of life can be even more challenging.
- Shabbat is a weekly reminder of what was lost and the silence, when alone, can be deafening.
- Send a quick text, a random photo or link to an article you find interesting.
- This lets your friend know you are thinking of them and opens lines of communication if/when they want to reach out.
- Especially helpful if you don't know what to say.