Grief Do’s and Dont’s

The time period from Simchat Torah to this Yom Hazikaron and 76th Yom Haatzmaut has been difficult for Am Yisrael. Since October 7th, there have been an unfathomable amount of deaths of both civilians and soldiers. The Beit Shemesh Anglo community, too, has been personally affected. Many of us have witnessed firsthand the grief of family, neighbors, and friends whose children had fallen while protecting Am Yisrael. While I thankfully did not have a child who was a soldier in this war, I have been touched by death and grief. Six years ago, my seventeen year old was killed in a tragic car accident. In light of my own experiences and my training as a grief counselor, I have learned that it is common for people to feel at a loss when providing comfort and solace, particularly when faced with these sudden and tragic deaths. While not everyone finds comfort in the same actions or words, here are a few tips and basic guidelines to help sensitively and compassionately navigate these sensitive situations. 

DO – Be present. It is important to remember that the purpose of nichum aveilim is to comfort the mourner, not ourselves. When we enter the shiva house, halacha says we should not greet the aveil, but rather sit silently and wait for him to address us. Witnessing another’s grief, without saying anything, provides support and validation. If you’re unsure what to say, just be present. Sit quietly and listen. We all harbor fears of death which often come out when we face death in our lives or in the lives of others. Do not assuage your own fears by discussing the weather or sports or with incessant chatter. Let go of your own need to think of something comforting or clever to say. Listen, be present, and be willing to sit with the mourners’ pain. I don’t remember much from my son’s shiva. However, I do remember the silence of Rav Drukman ztz”l’. Rav Drukman had only been our son’s rosh yeshiva for forty days yet when he sat down across from my husband and me, he just looked directly into our eyes. The tears began to slowly drip down his face. We read every word his eyes said to us and conveyed our own message in return, the tears streaming down our faces, as well. In that moment we felt heard, understood, connected and held. This was the comfort we needed at that point. 

DON’T – Avoid talking about the deceased. By all means, do not hesitate to share stories. You are not reminding the family members of their loss; they are thinking about them all the time, and it will be meaningful for them to hear stories that embody their loved one’s character and personality and tell of his or her good deeds. My husband and I always enjoy hearing tales of everyday occurrences and mischief my son and his friends got into. Keep in mind, this might be more relevant to parents than to siblings.

DO- reach out on later dates. Since our lives carry on as usual when we leave the aveil, we assume that when shiva is over, his life gets back to normal, too. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aveil’s life will never be the same. In fact, the real aveilut may only begin after shiva is over. The internal work of grief is a process, a journey. It does not have prescribed dimensions, and it does not end. The need for support does not only extend after shiva but also after shloshim, after a year, on significant dates, and even at random times. An occasional call from friends, especially close ones, can help the aveil cope since the feeling of aveilut never wholly disappears. Every Shabbat, holiday, birthday or milestone brings back memories and unfulfilled dreams.

One example of this is the thoughtfulness of our family friends, who brought us a cake every Erev Shabbat for the first year. This continued every Rosh Chodesh over the course of the second year and now, six years later, we still receive a cake or cookies every Erev Chag. Yes, sweet food is comforting, and not having to bake is helpful, but their thoughtfulness extends beyond any amount of calories or delicious treats. The reaching out shows us that they care about and think of us. 

However – Choose the timing and circumstance wisely! When we see someone who suffered a loss out and about, in shul, at the grocery store or at gan pick up, we have the urge to let them know we are thinking about them. That is not the time to remind them of their loss. It is on their mind all the time. While the rest of the world is still turning and continuing as usual, it likely required considerable effort for that person to have pulled themselves together to leave their home and carry out everyday tasks. They might not want to be stopped with a pitying look and to hear how upset you are at their loss, no matter how sensitive you might be trying to be. 

Reaching out is good. But often not in public and not when it’s just convenient for you. 

DON’T- judge or compare: At first glance, not judging sounds obvious. Be aware that even commenting on how well the mourners are doing is judging. Any advice that was not solicited can be construed as criticism. Do not try to “fix” them by pressuring them to talk when they don’t want to. 

Moreover, do not compare their loss with someone else’s, even your own. Do not tell them how lucky they are that something much worse didn’t happen or how terrible their loss is in comparison with others you have heard about. Additionally, platitudes and projections of your own beliefs are not usually helpful, especially during the initial phases. 

Many bereaved parents feel pressure not to express their grief as it will be construed as a sign of “inadequate religious belief.” This attitude can be damaging. If you don’t know the mourner well enough to know what type of statements they would appreciate then please refrain from using trite cliches. 

Try saying something like, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” Always ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it won’t, don’t say it.

DON’T – Be careful not to say, “This is really bringing me down.” We have all been dealing with a lot of tough emotions over the last half year. It is difficult for many of us to experience so much loss and tragedy, even second and third-hand. But we need to be careful. We can “kvetch” and moan to our friends and family, but only to those less directly affected by the trauma – not to those who have been hit more closely. Yes, they might understand better, but it is not their job to comfort you, it is yours to comfort them. Especially now, during our current war by which we have all been impacted, we must remember that while we are all in this together different people have suffered different losses. Different people also grieve similar losses in incomparable ways. 

DO – share what you are doing in memory of their loved one. It is so meaningful for the bereaved family to know that their loved one is not forgotten by others. This is even more pronounced when someone dies without children or a legacy. Doing chessed projects, giving tzedaka, saying Tehillim, and learning Torah are all ways to elevate the memory of someone who is no longer in this world. Not only are these mitzvot a zechut for the neshama but doing actions that continue the path of that person can help the family find meaning. The more we help them to remember with more love than pain, the more all of our loved ones will forever live in us and in our memories.

As mentioned above, I was not very focused after my son’s death, but I do remember an overall feeling of being held, as if I was enveloped in cotton, surrounded by friends and family. Everyone was just trying to be present and there for us, ready to do whatever was needed. 

Adina Suslovich is a social worker and cognitive behavioral therapist. She is also a teacher of Tanach at Matan Beit Shemesh. Adina studied Grief Education in the hope that her personal experience of grief after the death of her son, Berachya Yitzchak z”l could help her provide support to others going through a similar process. She can be reached @ 0546417120 or

First appeared in Connections Magazine, Iyar 5784

About the Author
Adina Suslovich is a social worker and cognitive behavioral therapist. She is also a teacher of Tanach at Matan Beit Shemesh. Adina studied Grief Education in the hope that her personal experience of grief after the death of her son, Berachya Yitzchak z”l could help her provide support to others going through a similar process.
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