In the Aftermath of Shiva


For anyone second guessing the need to pay a shiva call to pay their respects, don’t.

Several Tuesdays ago, my Dad passed away. As I write these very words, I see a sister, a daughter, a little girl who just keeps shaking her head. Did you just write that? I think my three older brothers, all in their seventh decade, would each agree that death does not suit my dad. Yes, yes, we are all going to go. Yes, yes, all of us. Like my three truths to my clients:

Time does not stop.
All families have at least some thing, some problems, with which to contend.
And lastly, all that is alive eventually dies.

Still, it doesn’t suit him. A suit suits him. A classy night out on the town. A good song suits him. The color lavender. The New York Times. A brilliant nonfiction tome. Spirituality. Belting out Benny Goodman. Admiring you, your smile, your essence, and me, my opinions and my essence and rows of green trees standing tall, along the tiny bend. Mesmerizing a congregation as a cantor. Holding a moment in this life suits him.
His name is—excuse me, was—Royal. He was royalty.

So, there I was. Walking up the steps in the synagogue. My turn to eulogize. I breathed and thought, “It’s happening, isn’t it? You pictured this day. And here it is. Here you are.”
I sang his praises. I pictured my sweet children watching their mother. My husband by my side.

And then, it was time to retreat. I sat on a low cushioned chair for about seven days in the recesses of my loving room. (We don’t have a living room.)

Next to me are images of Daddy and Mommy and my kids and grandchildren.

I promised myself that this week would be only and all about him.
His life. No, he was not sick. No, he was not in the hospital. Yes, he was almost 96. Yes, yes. He still had his flair for living and his zest for life.
Good ol’ juxtaposition between life and death. Nope—doesn’t add up.

I look up from myself absorbed sadness.
I see faces. They come in quietly. They take their place. I want to make sure everyone knows everyone. I decide to introduce them to each other while I am simultaneously setting the tone. No, this is no party, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to feel awkward or uncomfortable. Everyone has a name. Where better than in a house of mourning to give recognition of another’s existence? Yes, begin with their names. Just like when we are born.

Someone asked me if I was surprised by some of the visitors.  I was indeed. One was a 30-something who I barely know, a renowned physician with three children. I can’t wait to thank her.

Unexpectedly, I was visited by a woman I had never seen. She came to the wrong house. To her I said, “I have to believe that if you did come, you were meant to be here.” She listened along with the others, and before she left, she said she hoped that I receive comfort in the knowledge that my father was clearly an ambassador of good.”
Crazy, as she got my dad spot-on.

But the “in my gut, omigoodness” visits came from clients. In my field, boundaries is THE name of the game. I pride myself on being human and relatable, but not mixing work and pleasure with clients. Darn if I care that at least four showed up. It was incredible. One teen girl I had finished seeing after six years of treatment showed her beautiful face, and as our eyes met, all we could do was cry.

Never second guess visiting the bereaved. The comfort is undeniable. The impact indelible.

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Pam Weissman earned her Bachelor’s of Social Work at Bar Ilan University, in Ramat Gan, Israel. She received her Master’s of Social Work from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work. She has extensive experience working with children, families, individuals, and groups, both in her private practice and as a school social worker over the past 20 plus years. Pam is closely affiliated with Chana—Baltimore’s response to abuse and domestic violence, and she is an aspiring young children’s book author and fitness instructor. When she is not working, she is enjoying her family, including her children and their spouses, grandchildren, and husband, Dr. Neil Weissman.