In general, when someone experiences a loss there is uncertainty surrounding 'how to act', 'what to do' and 'what to say'. Depending on your relationship to the individual who has passed away and/or the mourning family, communication and the way you provide support and comfort may vary. Adding to these complexities, are the unique traditions and customs within the Jewish faith, mainly the first structured period of mourning, shiva. During this time friends and family, make a condolence call referred to as a making a shiva call. Outlined below are guidelines and suggestions for what to say and how to engage with mourners at a shiva.

Upon Arriving at a Shiva Home: Signing the Guestbook

When entering the shiva home, in the foyer or entrance way of the house it is common to find a guestbook for visitors to sign their name. This practice helps the mourning family to remember visitors and also serves as a point of reference in the event the home is crowded and visitors do not engage directly with all members of the mourning family. It is appropriate and common for all guests to include your name.

When Seeing the Mourner: What to Say

Depending on many factors, including your relationship to the deceased, the mourner, along with the type of loss it may impact the exact words and expressions of comfort you offer. It is often advisable to view the mood of the room and absorb the manner in which others are interacting to help gauge and identify an appropriate demeanor for verbal communication. In general, friends, family and acquaintances are found listening to the mourner sharing stories and expressing their memories of departed loved ones. The uniqueness of your relationship may be a guide to expressing condolences. For example, if this is a relative or close friend compared to a colleague or more distant relative. Providing your deepest sympathy and condolences is appropriate. Many times, individuals share a personal memory or fondness about the deceased when speaking with a mourner. The simplest expressions and most common phrases include: "I am very sorry," "he/she will be missed by us all," "we all loved [NAME] so much and he/she will be forever missed," "I/we are all here for you and are so saddened." The emotions of mourners may come out during your conversation in a variety of ways, which may include crying, sobbing, and weeping. This is generally seen as part of the shiva and bereavement process. Lastly, within Judaism, and other faiths, sometimes your presence is sufficient, and there are no words required. Merely listening, and waiting to be engaged by the mourner is acceptable. Providing a warm engagement (e.g., hug, kiss, nod, handshake, etc...) also shows support and helps convey emotion.

When Leaving a Shiva Home: What to Do or Say to Mourners

The relationship to mourners and environment at the shiva home may influence and/or limit access to the mourning family. Your attendance is the most meaningful gesture and therefore, it is certainly appropriate to say goodbye, but is not a requirement. When saying goodbye visitors generally restated a few words of condolence. At this time, depending on level of observance and familiarity, you may offer a blessing together with condolences. A common phrase/blessing for mourners and bereaved family members is: “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Traditional Blessing: Words to Express Sympathy & Offer Comfort for the Bereaved

המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים
"May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."