My grandmother was somewhat religious - far more religious than most of my family members - and the family obeyed her religious wishes as much as we could. Rather than having people in my grandfather's house, we opened up my Dad's house for Shiva. I can tell you that putting together a Shiva while you're in mourning is one of the hardest things to do. Your friends and community are supposed to help you but they don't always come through. My grandmother had quite a few grandchildren so my stepmom and aunt enlisted us to get things started. It was the hardest job I've ever had. I was so lucky to be shopping for stuff with my sister because she compartmentalized everything and we moved quickly to get it all done. Still, there's nothing like working your way down a grocery list while you're in mourning to put things in perspective.
All I wanted to do was be at home with my family and mourn. I didn't want to be out shopping. My husband updated me with the amount of friends who wrote on my Facebook wall sending their condolences but once the funeral was over and Shiva started, very few of the well-wishers showed up. I'm grateful to the people who came to the funeral or to the Shiva but I read a lot of "sorry, I'm busy with XX" and "I wish I could make it - let me know if you need anything!!" Distance played a factor with some of it - not all of my friends live in Michigan (hell, even I don't live in Michigan) but for the people that did, their words stung a bit. Part of the Shiva process involves your community coming to your house to take care of you and to personally pay their respects.
Don't get me wrong, I met all sorts of people that I didn't know - but they knew my grandmother. Her funeral was packed! She was everyone's grandmother and everyone's mother! She made my friends call her Bubba - not Mrs. Rubin. She would have loved the turnout but as these people invaded my Dad's house, I just looked for a friendly face or two that I could escape with. Craig often found me in the garage "hiding". I wanted to be comforted by my friends - not by strangers who I knew would ask questions about the State of Israel and what it's like to live there. Those are not questions you want to answer when you're mourning. Other people asked me if I was excited to be pregnant - at the time, the answer was no. I wanted my grandmother to be alive - I wanted her to meet my child. It was just another question I didn't want to answer.
The Facebook and Twitter condolences were nice but the friendly faces were better.
I don't remember if we sat Shiva for a full seven days. Sitting for the full length of time is very hard on the mourners because you have to partially play the role of entertainer and someone's gotta clean up when everyone leaves the Shiva home. I have a new-found respect for my stepmom. She pulled it all together for the sake of my father but there's only so much you can ask of one person. I think the worst part about Shiva is the day after it's over. People stop coming to your home and the real mourning begins. You're no longer distracted by people and the real healing process begins.
It's been six months since my grandmother passed away. Do I miss her? Every.Single.Day. Pictures of her adorn the walls of my apartment. I tell stories about her nearly every day. I learned a thing or two from the Shiva experience - I don't like to write condolence remarks on Facebook. I do it because I live so far away from so many people but I prefer to write the mourner something private and I like to check in on them after everyone has cleared the Shiva home. Is there a place for social networking in the mourning world? Absolutely. Is there a place for it when someone is sitting shiva? Sure. Is it still better to make a Shiva call and visit the mourners? 1000000%.