The rules of etiquette relating to visiting a Shiva house are designed to help the mourners deal with the pain and sorrow of their loss, and begin the slow healing process. It is important for visitors to familiarize themselves with these rules of etiquette so that they can assist, rather than disrupt, this important stage in the mourning process.
Here are some of the rules:
1. Do not initiate conversation with the mourner. The mourner must initiate. This gives the mourners the option to remain silent, if that is what they feel they need to do at that moment. Most people find it extremely difficult to simply sit silently in the presence of other people, and they will say something to relieve that discomfort. They forget that their purpose at the Shiva is not to make themselves feel comfortable, but to give the mourner comfort. If the mourner is comforted by silence, then that is what the visitor must offer.
2. Do not try to take the mourner’s mind off mourning with stories, jokes, or matters unrelated to mourning. The purpose of the Shiva is to give the mourners the opportunity to experience their sadness and share their memories with friends and loved ones. This is a vital part of the grieving, and healing, process. Distracting the mourners robs them of this process and simply makes it more difficult for them to truly heal.
3. Do not engage in side conversations or levity with other visitors at the Shiva. You are there to comfort the mourners.
4. Do ask the mourners to tell you about their dearly departed. Speaking about them can be therapeutic for the mourners. Your interest also shows honor and respect for the deceased. If the mourner is reluctant to speak, don’t press them.
5. Don’t ask the mourners how they are doing. They are probably experiencing tremendous grief, pain, possibly guilt, confusion, and helplessness. Instead, you can offer to help them with anything they might need in their time of sorrow.
Visiting a Shiva house is one of the greatest acts of kindness we can perform. If done according to the rules established by Jewish law, it can bring tremendous comfort to the mourners, helping them grieve, and begin to heal.