Venting

Jun. 11th, 2010 01:10 pm
mamadeb: Writing MamaDeb (Default)
[personal profile] mamadeb
I am only venting here, and I know it's going to sound terrible. I'm sorry about that.



There is a standard of behavior for people sitting shiva. The idea is that one is divorced from all physical worries because one is emotionally devastated. The mourner sits on a low seat and people come to them, and sit waiting to be acknowledged. If the mourner never looks up, so be it. There are no greetings, no farewells. It's too emotional a situation for that.

Meanwhile, other people - non-mourning family or close friends or members of their community - take care of them. They do not cook, they do not clean, they most certainly do not serve others. They sit.

Now, this is never fully honored. A mother of small children will take care of them; a naturally polite person will have to be restrained from being polite. But this is the standard and the expectation in Orthodox households.

Everyone is assuming my husband's family is doing this to the best they can. So they walk in and my sister-in-law is washing dishes, and my brother-in-law is cooking eggs, and Jonathan's walking around, and my mother-in-law is bustling, and I'm standing there USELESS.

Or they're sitting and visitors are praising me for all the hard work I'm NOT doing. Or when I try, I get told not to do it. Oh, I can make breakfast. Sometimes. And if I clean up, I do it quietly - I'm not looking for praise or thanks - but then my mil complains to my husband I'm not doing anything. Or not putting away things I never took out, or put them wrong or....

I can't tell them what to do, and I know that. And bustling around is a way to hide from grief - but THAT'S THE POINT. This is the week to grieve, to hurt, to let it happen.

And they're really not that religious, and they don't want to be told what to do, and I get that. So I'm hiding. Because when I get upset, Jonathan gets upset and I don't want that to happen. He's already frustrated because, despite having a brother and a sister, the mourning is going to fall on HIM. He's the only one going to say kaddish, he's the only one who'll miss out on conventions and weddings and celebrations. He's the one getting up far too early in a strange bed to lead morning minyan. His brother, who has children to get to school and daycare, is in his own home. His sister and niece, who are here from Israel, are staying at a neighbors and come by when they come by. And insist on not doing anything appropriate.

This is creating a huge tension between the expectations of the callers, who are all experiences at going to shivas, and the behavior of the mourners. And Jonathan is feeling ground between all of that - me, his family, expectations that he chafes at as well, but understands. And none of that is helping their grief.

And it makes my life easier if I just let them do as they will, but then I feel useless.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-11 09:52 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
I think we all feel useless in the face of death, because there is nothing we can do about it. Whether we sit absolutely still and just exist in the centre of our grief or bustle around trying to pretend it's not happening or rage and scream at the heavens, it doesn't change anything at all. The person who's dead is still gone and every unfinished conversation or interaction we had with them is closed until we go where they have gone. Uselessness makes sense. But you're not any less useful in the world than you were before it happened. You've just been confronted with the fact that there are things in this world we have no power to change, and nobody ever likes that.

You're not even useless in this situation. You're there. You showed up. Your caring is manifestly obvious. People in mourning are likely to say critical or stupid things because they're not thinking right; if they criticise you, it probably is more about how they feel right now than anything you did or didn't do. You've lost a member of your family. You're going to get stuff wrong and so is everyone around you. It's unavoidable, it's human, and maybe you could just decide not to judge yourself, and try not to judge or anyone else right now, because you're all human beings with brains made of meat and emotional baggage, and you're in pain, and nobody does anything perfectly under such circumstances. Most of the unpleasant things that people say or do right now are not reactions to what you say or do, but to this huge pain. Sitting shiva properly would be a way they could reduce the harm they might do, but if they won't do it, nobody can make them.

I'm kind of appalled that the callers are being judgemental. The standard of behaviour that you are talking about exists to protect the feelings of people who are mourning, not to give their visitors an excuse to judge them on how well they manage to follow the standard. The only one who should be judging mourners on their shiva etiquette and general adherence to mitzvot is G-d, and I think His perspective is a little more compassionate.

I am sure your family is as lovely as they possibly can be in the pain that they are in. There is nothing more to do but what you can. It is positively hateful of the visitors to judge people who are in mourning, no matter how badly they behave; you have to do what you can to keep them from hurting each other if they have that level of problem, but other than that you just have to let them, which is the whole point of shiva anyway.

G-d knows that, and I know that, and the people who really love and care about you and your family do too. As for the judges, their time will come too, and they will not do everything perfectly either. (Don't ask me about the amount of money I spent on Poupee Girl during the months before and after my father died. But I don't judge myself. I could have done a lot worse.)
Edited Date: 2010-06-11 09:54 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-06-13 05:49 am (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
I understand that Judaism isn't freeform--this is me, after all. And also that there are real psychological benefits.

But how can you force people who are mourning to do anything? Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. I'm not judging you, I just felt for you, feeling that people are judging you, and want you to know that I'm not. I just...gah.

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February 2011

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