Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shiva duty

My lovely friend Bina just lost her father, so I shlepped into Brooklyn twice to console her. Sunday night I went with Alona, and we stayed for a little while but not too long. Monday night I left work at 6 (relatively early) and went to the shiva apartment. Some friends were there but left; I stayed. (Also there were Asher's 20something nieces, whom I met at the wedding. I found out they appreciate my captions on the numerous Ziva photos Asher posts online. Nice to have fans.)

Bina looked drawn and drained, holding her sleeping daughter. She's still breast-feeding Ziva on demand, and Ziva's off her schedule and quite demanding; in addition, Ziva picked up a stomach bug and has been vomiting on Bina on a regular basis. Also, Asher is a night owl -- so Bina hasn't been getting enough sleep for quite some time.

"Have you eaten anything?" I asked. I picked up a menu from Garden of Eat-In on the way to the apartment, figuring that we could order in if need be. It's not gourmet, but it's edible.

"I had lunch.... Some friends are sending something over for dinner," Bina said wearily. She picked up an album of family pictures and started showing me 30-year-old (and older) shots of her young parents, several late relatives, and her brother's pidyon ha-ben (he's now a father of 11 with a long grey beard).

People are awkward around death, which is odd because we all encounter it. I guess we're uncomfortable with pain and trauma. I react by trying to make the avelim laugh as much as possible. Maybe it's a little inappropriate, but how better to comfort a mourner than by helping them release some tension and forget the pain for a moment? I'd have given Bina a backrub, but I'm quite sure mourners aren't supposed to indulge in massage during shiva.

Fortunately, Bina is quite a fashionista, and all I had to do, to crack her up, was to say, "Check out that col-lar, Mis-ter Kot-ter!" It was the 70s. Many fashion mistakes were immortalized on film.

A neighbor boy delivered food in a foil pan, and moments later several more of Bina's friends arrived. I went into the kitchen, where Bina's husband Asher was checking out the contents. Chicken; kugel; pilaf. Shabbat leftovers. Smelled awesome.

"Bina needs to eat," I said to Asher.

He hesitated. "I don't think she feels comfortable eating in front of people," he said.

Granted, he's married to Bina and they share a child, but I've known her much longer, so I pulled rank. "She needs to eat," I repeated. "How about you fix her a plate?" Involving people in something usually makes them more willing to go along with it. He complied, and after washing some cherries and putting them into a bowl, I brought the plate to Bina, chatting listlessly with the new arrivals.

"Have some dinner, Bina," I said kindly but firmly. I felt like a nurse. Bina shifted a sleeping Ziva into my arms; I'd made up a bed for the baby on the sofa, with sheets from the linen closet, but every time we put her down she woke up. Bina picked up her fork and finished most of it, which I was glad to see. By the time she was done Ziva started to wake up, so I gave her back to Bina. Just in time -- the baby threw up all over her. Oysh. I canNOT afford to get sick, so I gave Bina some paper towels but tried to keep some distance.

Another friend of Bina's, who lives in the neighborhood, offered to launder Bina's torn blouse so she wouldn't have to destroy another one (Orthodox Jews wear torn clothes during shiva as a sign of mourning). I felt that Bina was in good hands, so I left -- and called a friend planning a Tuesday visit, suggesting he bring some PediaLyte for the baby.

Shiva calls aren't as much fun as organizing a shabbat kallah, shopping for an engagement ring, planning a bridal shower, writing and singing a song, stuffing invitation envelopes, or dancing at a wedding. But I'm glad I've been able to do all this for Bina.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. Real friends are there for you in good times and in bad. Sounds like you are a real friend to Bina. I'm sure she appreciates it.

  2. This is a weird post. Like you were bragginf about how much zedaka you gave. Best given without bragging.

  3. I think Ayelet's point is also that sometimes, you have to just do the right thing, even if people are uncomfortable with it. In a shiva house, especially with 'inexperienced' avelim and their spouses, someone has to take charge - firmly insisting that meals happen, taking care of the kid(s), and ensuring that a difficult time isn't any worse than it has to be.

    Ayelet did the right thing. And I know Bina appreciates it.

  4. It's nice to hear about the positive things you do and feel. I didn't think it was bragging, just reporting some good things that you did. It's not narcissism.

  5. thanks, Carmen and Anon #2 ;)

  6. I think Ayelet was bragging, just a bit. That doesn't mean she didn't do a mitzvah like Carmen said. The two are not mutually exclusive.