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True Consolation: Recapturing the Lost Art of Nichum Aveilim

Malka Forster

When Chana’s family experienced a horrific tragedy — the death of a six-month-old granddaughter — she assumed the shivah would be a cathartic seven days for her broken son-in-law and daughter.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

concolation “Every day was a burden,” she says “Things started off well, but by the third or fourth day, my shattered daughter had heard so many inappropriate — and simply crazy — comments, that she broke down in sobs. ‘Mommy, will I ever be normal again?’ she cried to me.”

In Chana’s case, a large part of the problem was the participation of numerous individuals who’d faced similar tragedies and wanted to “comfort” the mourners. But many of these good-intentioned people were not emotionally balanced — and their outrageous perspectives terrified the young couple, further jeopardizing their sheet-thin mental health.

“By the last day, I literally stood by the door and screened the visitors,” remembers Chana. “If I felt the person would do more damage than good, I told her my daughter was resting. I needed to protect her.”

Chana, too, found herself on the receiving end of a wealth of absurdities.

“Did your doctor put you on medication?” one woman inquired.

“How did the baby die?” asked another.

The family emerged from the shivah on shaky footing, perhaps more depleted than before. Since then, a determined, well-spoken Chana — along with many other former mourners who wish to restore the forgotten art of nichum aveilim — has taken on a new mission: educating people on how to turn the proverbial “shivah call” into a visit that actually comforts the mourners.



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