My family recently sent me a copy of the obituary they had written up about my father, to send to places he had worked and the like. It detailed his service in the army in World War ІІ, his years of teaching, and hiking. But while it detailed very much what he did, it barely touched what he WAS. And perhaps that is correct, considering who it is intended for. Former students from Western Illinois University are probably looking at the obituary and thinking, yes, OK, I remember him, and it ends at that.
But I loved my Dad for his honesty, for his tickling games when we were kids, for our shared view from the top of Longs Peak.
For this reason, when I called my sister-in-law last week, sitting shiva for her father, I didn’t ask medical details. I said: “Tell me something good about Abe.”
-“It was all good.”
-“Even so, tell me something.”
And that opening let her speak about all the things she loved about her Dad. Which, I believe is the benefit of the mourning period. A noting of the loss, acknowledgement of the pain, a marking of a life well-lived.
In my many years of shiva (comforting the mourners) visits, I have seen people do very much the opposite. It may sometimes be convenient for people to “catch-up” with each other, if they haven’t seen each other for a while. But sometimes I remember terrible visits to mourners where I wanted to scream at other “consolers” for their insensitivity. The worst case was when I saw 2 neighbors discussing school supplies in front of a woman who had suddenly lost her husband a few days before. A mourning visit is not a place to satisfy one’s curiosity. How the person died, details of the illness…these are much less important than what he was, and the talk should center on the later.