What to Say
Find the Mourners
Go to the mourners as soon as possible. What do you say? The tradition suggests being silent, allowing the mourner to open the conversation. Simply offering a hug, a kiss, a handshake, an arm around the shoulder speaks volumes. If you do want to open a conversation, start with a simple "I'm so sorry" or "I don't know what to say. This must be really difficult for you" or "I was so sorry to hear about _______." Be sure to name the deceased. Why? Because one of the most powerful ways to comfort mourners is to encourage them to remember the deceased.
Recall something personal: "I loved _______. Remember the times we went on vacation together? She adored you so much." Do not tell people not to cry or that they will get over it. Crying is a normal part of the grieving process. And, as most people who have been bereaved will tell you, you never "get over" a loss, you only get used to it.
Spend anywhere from a few moments to 10 minutes with the mourners. There will be others who also want to speak with them, and you can always come back. If you are the only visitor, then, of course, spend as much time as you wish.
When leaving the shiva home, visitors may recite the following:
המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים
"May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
Ha-Makom is a name of God that literally means "the place," referring to God's omnipresent nature, including at the lifecycles from birth to death. It is only God who can grant the mourner lasting comfort. The comforter comes to remind the mourners that the divine powers of the universe will enable them to heal and go on with a meaningful life. Ultimate consolation comes only from the omnipresent God.
"B’tokh sh'ar avaylay Tzion v'Y'rushalayim" means "among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." Once again, the message is "we are not alone." In fact, traditional Jewish practice requires a minyan of 10 in order to recite the Kaddish prayer. Personal bereavement is thus seen in the total context of the community.
Excerpted with permission from MyJewishLearning.com.