In Judaism, the first period of structured mourning is shiva. The word "shiva" has different meanings across different cultures and in Hebrew it means "seven." Shiva, as it relates to Jewish mourning, is the seven-day mourning period for the immediate family of the deceased which consists of spouse, child, parent or sibling.

Purpose of Shiva

The primary purpose of the shiva tradition, or "sitting shiva," is to create an environment of comfort and community for mourners: It helps guide friends and family members through the loss of a loved one. Throughout the weeklong shiva period, mourners come together in one family’s home to offer their condolences and support. Specific observances may vary depending on the Jewish community and its beliefs.

How Sitting Shiva Can Help

From a practical standpoint, the shiva process and practices associated with Jewish mourning add structure to the life of a mourner following a death. In the period after suffering a loss, a mourner may be comforted by the routines prescribed by traditional Jewish mourning laws. According to board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Jorge Casariego, “Psychologically, it is imperative that a mourner experiences a gradual, normative process of disengagement from the image of the deceased that would additionally help avoid pathological mourning.” He explains pathological mourning as a delayed mourning process that can eventually become chronic and emotionally disturbing. If mourning becomes chronic and problematic, it can lead to cause serious depression. After more than 40 years practicing psychiatry, Dr. Casariego has learned first-hand that it takes many individuals about a year for the completion of a normal mourning process, a fact that overlaps with the Jewish tradition of Yahrzeit.

Dr. Jorge Isaac Casariego

Dr. Casariego, a board-certified psychiatrist, has been practicing psychiatry in the United States for more than 40 years. For the past 30 years, he has worked in private practice in Florida. During his professional career, Dr. Casariego has worked with the Veterans Administration and the United States Armed Forces, and practiced in the corporate mental health system.

Suggested Books:

A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort by Ron Wolfson
Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning Edited by Jack Riemer & Sherwin B. Nuland
The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Maurice Lamm
When A Jew Dies: The Ethnography of a Bereaved Son by Samuel C Heilman
To Begin Again: The Journey Towards Comfort, Strength, and Faith in Difficult Times by Naomi Levy
Why Me? Why Anyone? by Jaffe, Hirshel, Rudin, James, Rudin, Marcia
Why Me? Coping with Grief, Loss, and Change by Kraus, Pesach and Goldfischer, Morrie
When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner