Tradition or not, visitation comforts the grieving family
I wish to comment on The Jewish Chronicle’s Dec. 31 article, “Origin of funeral visitation unknown; practice controversial.” As a licensed professional funeral director for more than 25 years, I know the many different options that we can offer a family for the time of a funeral. However, here I speak as one who has recently experienced visitation from a mourner’s perspective. I can tell firsthand how a visitation fits into the process of a funeral and, more importantly, how visitation aids in the process of grieving.
As many Chronicle readers know, my brother, David Ryave, died last July. Instantly, I went from being a professionally trained funeral director to being a mourner. I had not been an immediate mourner since my father’s passing almost 30 years ago. My brother’s death was sudden and unexpected. And all my professional training did not prepare me for my most basic needs as a mourner.
Traditions are important, but sometimes long-practiced rituals are rote repetitions of words or actions that we don’t fully understand. Many of us do things because we have a faith that calls for us to take those actions even if we don’t speak the language or fully know the history of the action. However, my modern Jewish family had to make a decision: “Do we want a visitation?”
There were votes in both directions; ultimately, we chose to bring our religious and secular sensibilities together and to have a visitation. We saw a visitation as a simple convocation of community; family, friends and neighbors came to be by our side for a few hours at the funeral home. This gathering was not the shiva. It was before the funeral. While there, each person reminded us in his own way that we were not alone. The visitation was truly a spiritual and bonding experience for our family.
Not one person who reached out to us during the visitation asked, “Why are we doing this?” No one asked, “Is this a Jewish thing to do?” Comforting those feeling a loss is more than a Talmudic instruction, it is a human gesture. No one said, “I feel awkward because visitation is a gentile thing to do.” No religion has an exclusive on well-being.
Through attending the visitation, we were gaining reassurance about life and death. I believe it is a mitzvah to give such consolation as well as a mitzvah to accept that consolation any time, even before a funeral service.
I can tell you we didn’t want a visitation at the time of David’s death; we needed a visitation. A funeral, it has been said by author Thomas Lynch, “is a time to get the dead where they need to be and the living where they should be.” We observed the halachic rituals for my brother. Conversely for the living, the comfort of community was critical to our healing.
I have heard some say that a visitation is irrelevant, that it interferes with or unwittingly replaces a shiva call. In my family’s experience, it was the visitation that carried us through the hours prior to the funeral service. From there it was our rabbi who was with us until the burial was complete. From there, the shiva carried us across those awful first days and supported our re-entry into a world where we still carry our loss every day, but we certainly know that we are not alone.
Sharon Ryave Brody
Ralph Schugar Funeral Chapel, Inc.